between barack and a trade union

Top city Democrat endorses charter cap lift, but cautiously

Stuck between two party bosses and a union that boosted him, the city’s public advocate has made a best-of-both-worlds choice on the Race to the Top.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio endorsed raising the state cap on charter schools today, but he stopped short of arguing the cap should be eliminated altogether, as Governor David Paterson has done and the Obama administration has encouraged. De Blasio also amended his endorsement with a list of tweaks he’d like to see in charter school law, including many that resemble recommendations the union made last week.

Like many other local politicians who favor raising the cap, de Blasio gave no other reason for his support other than that raising the cap will boost the state’s Race to the Top application. “I strongly support raising the cap on charter schools and giving New York State the best possible opportunity to compete for much needed federal education funding,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio’s letter, which was co-signed by a majority of City Council members, did not specify how high he wants the cap lifted.

The governor has charged state lawmakers with passing a bill to raise or eliminate the cap on charter schools before next Tuesday’s Race to the Top application deadline. It’s still unclear whether the legislature will make that deadline, though legislators spent yesterday conferencing on the issue.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has kept quiet about his support for the cap lift. Yesterday he told reporters that the Assembly was “trying to put together a proposal that will make New York eligible for money,” his most elaborate comment on the issue to date.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly supports lifting the cap. Most top city Democrats, including Comptroller John Liu, have been cooler to charter schools.

Here’s the full text of de Blasio’s statement and accompanying letter:

STATEMENT FROM PUBLIC ADVOCATE
BILL DE BLASIO ON EXPANDING CHARTER SCHOOL SYSTEM

“I strongly support raising the cap on charter schools and giving New York State the best
possible opportunity to compete for much needed federal education funding.  I have
submitted the following letter to Governor Paterson and the State Legislature asking them
to adopt new measures that build upon the successes in our charter school system by
increasing efficiency, transparency, and accessibility. The proposed measures, which are
endorsed by a majority of the members of the City Council, are designed to help make
our expanding charter school system more equitable to all New Yorkers.”

January 13, 2010

Dear Governor Paterson, Members of the Senate, and Members of the Assembly:

The Federal “Race to the Top” funding presents the City and State with a unique
opportunity to examine the legacy and plan for the future of New York’s charter schools
and, more generally, the public education system.  As you consider changes to the State’s
charter law in order to qualify for the Federal “Race to the Top” funding, I recommend
that any reforms should address three fundamental principles: (1) ensure fairness and
equity between public and charter schools; (2) establish greater accountability and
transparency about charter school operations; and, most importantly, (3) guarantee that a
quality education is available to all students.

In order to realize charter schools’ full potential, and share that effect with the larger
educational system, we should address the relationship between traditional public schools
and charter schools. This means adopting school siting policies that do not permit
disparate educational settings.  For example, one of the goals of the Contract for
Excellence was to reduce class sizes, which has not been fully realized in New York City.
Accordingly, there may be instances where a traditional school has higher class sizes than
a charter school that gets housed in the same school building.  Reform proposals should
address this issue to eliminate any actual or perceived inequalities in funding and the
system.

Parents in charter schools should also have the same opportunities for involvement as
parents in our traditional public schools. Parents can be powerful allies to teachers and
principals by providing support to students to be motivated about their education.  It is
important that charter schools engage their parent base by establishing an independent
parents association or parent teacher association.  Allowing parents to fully and
meaningfully participate in educational decisions at charter schools will help lead to
increased educational outcomes and create allies in educating students.

Charter schools must also be more accountable and transparent in their operations and
management.  This would allow educators, and parents, to learn from the best practices in
the most successful charter schools, which can be used to improve educational outcomes
throughout the system. In order to accomplish this, I recommend that the state law should
empower the state and local comptroller to conduct regular audits of charter schools –
similar to the recent amendments to the education law under the 2009 mayoral control

reauthorization legislation.  These reforms will allow government and the public to more
effectively measure charter school progress, as well as determine areas for improvement.

Similarly, charter schools must be more transparent by allowing the public to utilize the
tools available through the State’s Freedom of Information Law to obtain more
comprehensive information about charter school operations.  Further, charter school
officers and employees should be subject to the same financial disclosure and conflict of
interest requirements as traditional public school employees.  These accountability and
transparency guidelines will ease the ability for state and local officials, as well as the
public, to ensure that charter schools are providing students with the additional learning
opportunities that they were designed to foster and stimulate, as well as judge that they
are doing so in a fair and equitable manner.

Charter schools have the potential to be breeding grounds for innovations that could lead
to improvements in the traditional education system.  It is important that charter schools
achieve this while operating equitably and fairly toward all students, including and
especially the neediest students -English Language Learners, children living in poverty,
such as those eligible for free lunch, and special education and homeless students. The
lack of equity, accountability, and transparency in some schools has made it difficult to
ensure that the system is providing a quality education to all students instead of just some
smaller segment of the student body. Any reform in the laws governing charter schools
should provide meaningful and consistent oversight to ensure that charter schools comply
with these requirements. Additionally, the State Education Department should address
this issue by taking steps to improve the existing charter school lottery process. This will
help to ensure that students, regardless of their academic or personal needs, have access
to charter schools and the opportunities they present.

When taken together, I believe that these recommendations will ensure that charter
schools are more efficient, accountable, and transparent, and will allow educators and
administrators to marry the best aspects of the charter school system with those of the
traditional public school system.  This will also ensure that the school system as a whole
achieves its most important goal — providing equal educational opportunities to all of its
students.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and your anticipated prompt response to
this matter.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or my Policy
Director, DeNora Getachew, at 212-669-7200.

Sincerely,

Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate for the City of New York
Gale A. Brewer, 6th Council District
Fernando Cabrera, 14th Council District
Margaret Chin, 1st Council District
Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., 27th Council District
Elizabeth Crowley, 30th Council District
Erik Martin Dilan, 37 Council District
Daniel Dromm, 25th Council District
Mathieu Eugene, 40th Council District
Julissa Ferreras, 21st Council District
Helen D. Foster, 16th Council District
Vincent J. Gentile, 43rd Council District
Letitia James, 35th Council District
Karen Koslowitz, 29th Council District
Bradford Lander, 39th Council District
Jessica S. Lappin, 5th Council District
Stephen Levin, 33rd Council District
Melissa Mark-Viverito, 8th Council District
Rosie Mendez, 2nd Council District
Annabel Palma, 18th Council District
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., 47th Council District
Diana Reyna, 34th Council District
Joel Rivera, 15th Council District
James Sanders, Jr., 31st Council District
Larry B. Seabrook, 12th Council District
James Vacca, 13th Council District
Jumaane Williams, 45th Council District

Cc: Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City Mayor
Chancellor Joel Klein, New York City Department of Education

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.”