Duncan dispatch

Duncan: "Emergency action" needed now to avoid teacher layoffs

A P.S. 214 first-grader tells U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the story of Rumplestiltskin today.
A first-grader at Brooklyn's P.S. 214 told U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan about the story of Rumplestiltskin today.

City, federal and union officials clash on the best way to lift the state’s charter school cap. They dispute the fairest way to lay off teachers. And they could barely agree on what school U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan should visit today.

But brought together for that visit, Duncan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and teachers union president Michael Mulgrew could agree on one thing — the city needs federal dollars and it needs them soon.

Duncan was in town to promote his $4.3 billion Race to the Top grant competition and to call attention to the effect sweeping budget cuts could have on city schools. Duncan also took the opportunity to call on Congress to quickly pass a proposed $23 billion bill to avert teacher layoffs. A swift move on the bill is required, Duncan said, because districts like New York City are planning next year’s school budget now.

“The consequences of inaction are huge,” Duncan said. “We need emergency action and we need it now.”

The schools Duncan visited today were chosen to draw attention to two major policy changes city officials see as key to winning up to $700 million in Race to the Top funds. Bloomberg cited Kings Collegiate Charter School as the type of school the state’s charter cap is preventing the city from replicating. Cypress Hill’s P.S. 65 was selected as an example of a school whose young teachers would be hard hit by layoffs, the Daily News reported.

And P.S. 214 was added to Duncan’s itinerary at the last moment at the insistence of national teachers union president Randi Weingarten. Mulgrew told reporters the school was chosen because it is a high-needs school staffed by teachers with a range of experience levels and would lose both teachers and many special services in the case of harsh budget cuts.

Mulgrew also insisted, as he has done often, that the union opposes the State Senate’s version of the charter cap lift bill, not charter schools overall. “I’ve been very upfront that I support the lifting of a charter bill, with reforms,” he said.

And Duncan, when asked to assess the root of opposition to the charter school movement, denied that opposition exists.

“I don’t think there’s anybody not in support” of good charter schools, Duncan said. “I think there is honest disagreement about what we should do.”

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.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:


The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.


In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news