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.”

the end

A 60-year-old group that places volunteers in New York City schools is shutting down

PHOTO: August Young

Citing a lack of support from the city education department, a 60-year-old nonprofit that places volunteers in New York City schools is closing its doors next month.

Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15, its executive director, Jane Heaphy, announced in a letter to volunteers and parents last week.

In the message, she said the group had slashed its budget by more than a third, started charging “partnership fees” to participating schools, and explored merging with another nonprofit. But the city pitched in with less and less every year, with no guarantee of consistency, she said.

“This funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization,” Heaphy wrote. “We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure.”

The group — which began as part of the city school system but became its own nonprofit in the 1970s — says its volunteers work with more than 100,000 students in more than 300 schools every year, many of them faithfully. When then-84-year-old Carolyn Breidenbach became the group’s 2013 volunteer of the year, she had been helping at P.S. 198 on the Upper East Side daily for 12 years.

Heaphy’s full message to volunteers is below:

Dear [volunteer],

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you Learning Leaders will cease operations on March 15 of this year. This organization has worked diligently over the last few years to sustain our work of engaging families as Learning Leaders, but the funding landscape has become too challenging to keep our programs going. While we have been able to increase our revenues from a generous community of funders, we have ultimately come to the conclusion that without a consistent and significant base of funding from the NYC Department of Education, we cannot leverage foundation grants, individual donors, or school fees sufficiently to cover program costs.

In the face of growing financial challenges, Learning Leaders reduced its costs as thoughtfully as possible — and in ways that did not affect our program quality. Rather, we sought to deepen and continually improve our service to schools and families while eliminating all but the most necessary costs. These efforts reduced our budget by more than 35 percent.

At the same time, we sought greater public support for our work with schools and families across the city. We are grateful to the foundations and individual donors that have believed in our work and provided financial support to keep it going. We were gratified when schools stepped up to support our efforts through partnership fees. While these fees only covered a portion of our costs, the willingness of principals to find these funds within their extremely tight school budgets was a testament to the value of our work.

Throughout an extended period of financial restructuring Learning Leaders advocated strongly with the Mayor’s Office and the DOE [Department of Education] for a return to historical levels of NYC DOE support for parent volunteer training and capacity building workshops. While we received some NYC DOE funding this year, it was less than what we needed and was not part of an ongoing budget initiative that would allow us to count on regular funding in the coming years. Several efforts to negotiate a merger with another nonprofit stalled due to the lack of firm financial commitment from the DOE. Over time, this funding volatility has created insurmountable challenges to the long-term viability of our organization.

We regret the vacuum that will be created by our closure. If you have questions or concerns about opportunities and support for family engagement and parent volunteer training, you can contact the NYC DOE’s Division of Family and Community Engagement at (212) 374-4118 or [email protected].

On behalf of the board of directors and all of us at Learning Leaders, I offer heartfelt thanks for your partnership. We are deeply grateful for your work to support public school students’ success. It is only with your dedication and commitment that we accomplished all that we did over the last 60 years. We take some solace in knowing that we’ve helped improve the chances of success for more than 100,000 students every year. The Learning Leaders board and staff have been honored to serve you and your school communities.
Sincerely,

Jane Heaphy
Executive Director

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”