rally time

Protesters rally against closures on mayor's street, if not his stoop

Parents, students and teachers protest against school closures and the expansion of charter schools across the street from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Upper East Side townhouse (center house).
Parents, students and teachers protest against school closures and the expansion of charter schools across the street from Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Upper East Side townhouse (center house).

The pavement outside of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Upper East Side townhouse became a battleground in two fights this afternoon — one against school closures and another for the right to protest against them on a public sidewalk.

A group of parents, students and teachers sued in federal court last week for the right to demonstrate on both sides of the street outside of Bloomberg’s home. They said their protests at Tweed Courthouse — home to the Department of Education — had fallen on deaf ears.

On Friday, the protesters won their case. But the city appealed, and this morning a panel of circuit court judges overturned the first decision, ruling that the demonstrators had to stay on the south side of East 79th Street, across the street from the mayor’s door.

And so protesters, who had vowed to demonstrate regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome of their lawsuit, took their chants of “Phase out Bloomberg” to just the south side.

“The north side becomes a ‘no First Amendment’ zone,” said the civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who argued the case for letting protesters gather directly in front of the mayor’s residence. “What are they afraid of? Are they afraid of criticism?”

“It’s not for the government to choose where the protest is,” Siegel added.

Police allowed about 150 protesters onto the mayor’s block at a time, and the remaining demonstrators circled in a staging area at the corner of  79th Street and Central Park. At its height, roughly 300 protesters gathered on the block and in the staging area.

City attorneys argued that security concerns on the sidewalk directly in front of Bloomberg’s townhouse justified the city in keeping protesters across the street.

Siegel said it would be up to the plaintiffs in the suit, two students at Maxwell High School and a parent and teacher at Brooklyn’s P.S. 15, to decide whether to appeal the court’s ruling. To appeal, the plaintiffs would have to organize a second protest.

“From my perspective, I would absolutely like to,” said Julie Cavanagh, the P.S. 15 teacher who was one of the plaintiffs. “This is metaphorical for a lot of things in this city. This is a mayor who thinks a public street is his private street.”

Many demonstrators came to oppose the expansion of the city’s charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. A large contingent of parents and teachers came from Cavanagh’s school, P.S. 15, to protest a city plan to allow a charter school expand in their school building over the next five years.

Protesters gathered across the street from the mayor's home and on the corner across from Central Park to oppose the city's plan to shutter 20 schools.
Protesters gathered across the street from the mayor's home and a block away in Central Park to oppose the city's plan to shutter 20 schools.

Most protesters came to oppose the city’s plan to shutter 20 schools. Groups of teachers, students and parents traveled to the Upper East Side from Columbus High School in the Bronx, Maxwell High School in Brooklyn and Queens’ Jamaica High School, among several others, to protest plans to close those schools.

“They didn’t even try to fix the school,” said Lashaune Gordon, 16, a sophomore at Maxwell.

“Is closing the school making anything better?” asked Gordon’s friend Devante Kendall, also a 16-year-old sophomore. “Everybody at our school, we’re doing better now. I think they should wait to see what happens.”

The students’ math teacher, Ed Ludde, accused the DOE of setting the school up to fail when the school received an influx of high-needs students after the city shuttered nearby Jefferson High School. “They designed a system that would implode upon itself,” he said.

The students said they were skeptical that the city’s plan to phase in a new school on Maxwell’s campus as theirs phased out would go smoothly. And they said that the gradual phase-out of their own school would hurt morale. “If there are no 9th graders next year, there will be no 9th grade girls to talk to,” joked Kendall.

More seriously, they said plans for the school’s closure put a damper on their ambitions to share their future successes with their alma mater.

“We would like to come back 20 years from now, when we’re rich,” Gordon said.

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.”