Waiting for the dough (Updated)

Parent training center put on hold as city waits for state funds

Months after the city and the State Senate made a deal to create a parent-training center, plans for the center have come to a standstill as both sides wait for someone to fund the project.

Won as part of a deal between a group of runaway senators and Mayor Bloomberg during last summer’s mayoral control debate, the center would be housed at CUNY and would cost the city and state a total of $1.6 million. Advocates for the center’s creation have said it would address concerns that the current mayoral control law keeps parents out of the political process. They said the center would train parents who normally wouldn’t get involved to serve on community education councils and school leadership teams.

Though they have agreed to split the cost, neither the Department of Education nor the State Senate has yet to commit any money to the project.

Selvena Brooks, a spokeswoman for Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson, said the city and state are still “in talks” about how to fund the center. “Once we formalize a commitment, the funds will forthcoming,” she said.

A DOE official who insisted that he speak on background said the city will not pay its share of the funds until the Senate does the same.

Meanwhile, the man charged with overseeing the center’s development is waiting patiently. John Mogulescu, the Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs and the Dean of the School of Professional Studies at CUNY, said he was waiting for both sides to allocate the funding before beginning work on the center.

According to the DOE official, the Senate could allocate the money in one of two ways. In one scenario, senators could dip into their discretionary funds, which can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million, in order to pay for the center. Another option is to wait until the State Legislature returns to Albany in January and have the center’s funding inserted into the new budget.

Neither choice is particularly attractive. By now, many senators have spent their discretionary funds on other causes, such as building playgrounds or senior centers. And a $3 billion gap in the state’s budget could make it difficult for senators to set aside money in next year’s budget.

Sources in the State Senate and Assembly questioned whether the city needed to wait for the Senate’s allocation. “The city is punting this to the legislature,” one source said. “There might be other ways. The city seems to be limiting their options.”

Update: DOE spokesman David Cantor writes that the department and the state legislature made a deal in August that the city would match the Senate’s funds. The agreement letter is below:

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”