waiting game

No charter cap deal today; teacher eval bill's fate also unclear

There won’t be a deal to allow more charter schools in New York today, either, our sources on the train back from Albany report.

That leaves tomorrow and Friday for lawmakers to figure out a way to boost the state’s chances in the Race to the Top competition — without throwing away their concerns with charter schools. The final deadline for submitting an application is June 1, next Tuesday. Lawmakers have Monday off for Memorial Day.

As the deadline nears, a standoff is developing between the state Senate and the Assembly. Each chamber has passed its own legislation tied to Race to the Top: The state Senate already passed a bill that would raise the cap on charter schools to 460 from 200. And yesterday the Assembly passed legislation to build a new teacher evaluation system.

The Senate could easily sign on to the teacher evaluation legislation and make it law. But we’re hearing that some senators might not sign off so easily. The idea is to prevent Assembly members from taking an easy way out by passing a teacher evaluation bill, but no new charter school laws. Then the Assembly could say something like, “Well, we did at least one thing to help our state’s schools win the contest!”

To prevent that, some senators, we hear, might threaten to treat the two bills as a package. They’ll either pass the charter cap and teacher evaluation along with the Assembly, or they’ll do nothing at all.

That would make the Assembly members look like the ones standing between New York children and the $700 million the state could win in the federal competition. Which is not what Assembly members want. This, at least, is the calculation charter school supporters are making.

“If it is the state Assembly that the finger is pointed at for failing to pass a bill, it would be a public relations disaster,” Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo, a staunch charter school supporter, told me today. “And you know at a time when we’re all facing tough elections, there’s already an anti-incumbent, anti-government mood … I think that all involved know that if it doesn’t get done and the Assembly is blamed, it’s not going to look good for our house or our conference.”

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