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

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.”