race to the race to the top

Paterson proposes a bill to abolish New York's charter cap

With roughly a week to go before the deadline to apply for Race to the Top funds, David Paterson proposed a bill he hopes will put New York State in a better position to win the $700 million grant.

The bill calls for eliminating the state’s charter cap, which currently limits the number of charter schools to 200, and offers several other proposals, many of which are deeply unpopular with the state teachers union. Among these is a proposal to move up the sunset date for a state law that bars the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions from June to January 15, four days before the grant application is due.

Two other proposals in the bill call for giving the Board of Regents the power to temporarily takeover failing school districts by appointing a “receiver” to oversee them, and giving the state Dormitory Authority the power to give charter schools money to build facilities.

The governor said he wants the bill passed by January 14.

“After consulting with the Obama Administration, legislative leaders and the New York State Department of Education, I am confident that this piece of legislation will increase our competitiveness to be awarded funding in the first round of Race to the Top grants,” Paterson said in a statement.

“I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to swiftly pass this bill so that our application is as strong as possible.”

How swift that passage will be depends on a legislature that is, by nature, slow-moving. Thus far, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has given no indication that he would support eliminating the charter cap or any of the other measures in the governor’s bill.

The bill may get a friendlier reception in the State Senate, where the three leaders of the Democratic body have endorsed, or will soon endorse, increasing the number of charter schools in the state.

Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson announced his support for raising the charter cap on Monday, Senate President Malcolm Smith has long been a vocal supporter of lifting the charter cap, and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada will announce his support for the governor’s bill at a charter school in the Bronx tomorrow.

President of the New York State United Teachers Richard Iannuzzi told the Albany Times Union today that lifting the charter cap was a “bogus issue.”

“The bottom line here is that nothing of value is going to get done in seven calendar days, which I’m going to guess is two or three legislative session days,” Iannuzzi said.

Though the governor’s bill calls for eliminating the charter cap, the state’s Education Department has taken a more moderate tactic: calling for the cap to be increased. Both State Education Commissioner David Steiner and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch have said they favor increasing the cap rather than doing away with it entirely.

Steiner and Tisch have, however, supported allowing the law that bans the use of student test scores in teacher tenure decisions to expire.

In response to calls for the charter chap to be lifted, New York City’s teachers union is attempting to push certain restrictions on charter schools, possibly in exchange for increasing the number of them. UFT President Michael Mulgrew wants laws that will force charter schools to admit more high needs students — those who are not proficient in English or are special education students. Overall, district schools enroll more of these students.

“The real issue should not be whether to lift the cap, but about how the state can make sure that these inequities are addressed as New York moves forward with its Race to the Top application,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

Paterson’s press release:

Governor David A. Paterson today submitted Program Bill No. 214 to maximize New York’s opportunity to receive as much as $700 million in Race to the Top competitive grant funding included in The America Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

“It is incumbent upon us as lawmakers to take any and all action necessary to ensure that we are successful in this process,” Governor Paterson said. “I have personally spoken with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and federal officials about New York’s eligibility for Race to the Top funds and the specific steps we need to take to be competitive in this process. After consulting with the Obama Administration, legislative leaders and the New York State Department of Education, I am confident that this piece of legislation will increase our competitiveness to be awarded funding in the first round of Race to the Top grants. I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to swiftly pass this bill so that our application is as strong as possible.”

The Governor has asked the Legislature to pass his proposed bill by January 14 in order to have the specific Race to the Top requirements signed into law by the January 19 application deadline. The legislation includes:

  • Eliminating the Charter School Cap that is presently set at 200 and of which fewer than 40 are still available;
  • Allowing the Dormitory Authority to finance charter school capital funding for approved charter schools;
  • Allowing the Regents to appoint a temporary receiver to address chronically under-performing schools;
  • Changing the sunset date from July 1, 2010 to January 15, 2010 of a law which limits student performance data for teacher tenure determinations.

Race to the Top awards will go to states that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reforms. The Regents and the State Education Department are creating a highly competitive application for the January 19 deadline. The inclusion of the Governor’s proposed legislation will ensure that New York State is a true competitor for the funding.

“Our children, our schools and the economy of the State of New York cannot afford to wait for the Legislature to implement these changes. For the sake of our children, we must not risk the opportunity to compete for, and win, Round 1 funds,” the Governor added. “The money received will benefit all of our children, not just those who attend charter schools.”

Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for states and local school districts throughout the country as they, too, are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come. The funding from Race to the Top will benefit public schools as well as charter schools across New York State.

Current State law includes a 200 charter school cap. By eliminating this cap, New York State will maximize its ability to receive application points tied to charter schools. With respect to the assessment of teacher and leader effectiveness, the application requires that there be no impediments to using student performance data. By advancing the sunset to expressly permit full use of this data as part of the tools to be available for reviewing performance, New York stands to gain significant application points.

In addition, while the State Education Department currently is empowered to take over poorly performing schools, this bill would provide a new streamlined approach to enable the Regents to act more swiftly and to appoint a temporary receiver to take-over chronically poor performing schools.

“Race to the Top provides an unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools and challenge an educational status quo that is failing too many children. President Obama and Congress have provided significant financial support for school reform,” Governor Paterson said. “This is a chance to change our schools and to accelerate student achievement, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that we are more than eligible to receive as much federal funding as possible.”

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.”