turf wars

State overturns one charter space-sharing plan, upholds another

The city must start over its controversial plan to let a Lower East Side charter school expand in city space but may proceed with another, the state education department ruled yesterday.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner threw out the city’s plan to allow Girls Prep Charter School to expand its middle school grades in the building it shares with two district schools, ruling that the city did not properly report the plan’s impact on disabled students who attend school in the building.

But in a separate ruling, Steiner argued that the city did provide enough information about its plan to let Brooklyn’s PAVE Academy Charter School expand in the building it currently shares with P.S. 15.

Both plans have prompted bitter space battles this year between the charter schools and teachers and parents at the district schools who share the buildings. Both charters want to expand the number of grades they serve; opponents of the expansion argue that the plans would squeeze the students at the district schools in the building.

The Girls Prep plan, which Steiner overturned, was complicated by the fact that one of the schools that shares the building is P.S. 94, a school for students with autism run by the Department of Education’s special district for severely disabled students.

P.S. 94 parents have complained that they were excluded from conversations about space sharing at the school from the start. And the final space sharing plan, which the citywide school board approved in February, did not detail how the change would affect P.S. 94 students.

When the city plans to significantly change the way a school building is used, it is required to prepare an “educational impact statement” (EIS) analyzing how the change will affect schools and students in the building. City officials argued that its schools for the most severely disabled students should be exempt from that requirement, since the city frequently has to re-locate programs to accommodate the students’ special needs. But Steiner responded that state education law requires the city to prepare an EIS for any change in school use.

“Accordingly, DOE’s contention that District 75 schools should be excluded is not supported by the plain language of the statute,” Steiner wrote.

A DOE spokesman said the city was reviewing the decision and its options to proceed.

Here’s Steiner’s ruling on P.S. 94 and Girls Prep. The PAVE and P.S. 15 ruling is below.


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.”