education mayor

Would a UFT endorsement for Thompson make a difference?

On the night of his primary election victory, city comptroller candidate John Liu stood in the city’s teacher union headquarters and thanked the United Federation of Teachers for delivering his win. In the mayoral race, by contrast, the UFT chose to sit on the sidelines and not endorse the Democratic candidate, as it has historically done.

How much of a difference has the UFT’s decision to sit out the race made for comptroller Bill Thompson’s campaign? The answer likely rests on the continuum between not much and not at all, election observers said today.

Those who argue that a UFT endorsement would have helped Thompson, if only modestly, point to the UFT’s powerful voter turnout machine. In an election predicted to see few voters, the ability to mobilize teachers and parents could be a deciding factor in who wins tomorrow.

A spokesman for the union, Dick Riley, estimated that union volunteers had made about 200,000 calls and distributed 50,000 pieces of campaign literature this year on behalf of endorsed candidates in citywide, borough and city council elections. The union also sends out robocalls urging its members to vote for candidates and its president, Michael Mulgrew, made appearances with candidates at press conferences.

To the Thompson campaign, which was been criticized for lacking discipline, an army of UFT volunteers with supplies on hand would have been a welcome sight. But Thompson may need more help than that, observers said.

“If they had endorsed Thompson it would have been a big plus, but it wouldn’t have been enough” said James Vlasto, a former communications director for public advocate Betsy Gotbaum.

Vlasto, who has worked on 30 campaigns in New York City, said the UFT’s support would not have raised Thompson’s poll numbers significantly, as the campaign’s flaws were too pronounced to be solved with one endorsement.

The Thompson campaign “had some unions, they had vehicles that could spread the word for him, [but] they missed out,” Vlasto said. “They spent all their time and money saying eight years is enough, and that’s a fine slogan, but there are other issues.”

Other observers said no amount of phone-banking or literature-distributing by the UFT would have made a difference for the Thompson campaign, as it was already mid-October when a chapter leader at a delegate assembly meeting offered a resolution to endorse Thompson. The motion was postponed and the union never returned to it.

“Without significant efforts by a union following a late endorsement in a race, the impact of the endorsement can be negligible,” said Benjamin Kallos, the director of policy and research for Mark Green’s campaign for public advocate.

This is not the first time the UFT has decided wait out a mayoral election, especially during contract negotiations. Following the end of contract negotiations in 2005, the UFT chose not to endorse Bloomberg or his Democratic challenger Fernando Ferrer. The UFT was also neutral in 1993 and 1997.

“It’s not uncommon that unions will not take a position when they’re sitting at the bargaining table,” said District Council 37 Local 372 president Veronica Montgomery-Costa. DC 37 endorsed Thompson over the summer and Montgomery-Costa spoke from the campaign’s headquarters where union volunteers were working.

“If they don’t pick the right candidate it could have a devastating impact on negotiations,” she said.

Vlasto said the UFT’s decision to keep the last two mayoral campaigns at arm’s length had caused it to cede political power to the the Working Families Party, an idea Riley disputed. “As to our clout, both De Blasio and Liu made it a point to address our delegate assembly after their endorsements,” Riley wrote in an email. ”

“One presumes that Liu had some reason for having his victory party after the runoff here at the UFT and Cy Vance (endorsed by the UFT but not the WFP) singled Mulgrew out at his primary night celebration to thank him for the UFT’s contribution to his victory.”

A spokesman for the Thompson campaign did not return requests for comment.

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.”