public service announcement

Politician claims victory in city's school bedbug policy change

Teachers who are concerned about bedbugs in their schools have a new way to seek relief.

The Department of Education has set up a new email address —[email protected] — to receive complaints about bedbugs in city schools. School officials can also send photographic evidence of suspected bedbugs to the address so the department can identify, and try to end, infestations.

The new procedure was made public today by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who is counting the address’s creation as a personal victory. Stringer asked the city last year to let school personnel submit bedbug evidence by email, according to a press release from his office. Until now, school officials had to send physical specimens by mail to a department office in Queens in order to initiate treatment, according to Stringer’s announcement, a process that cost precious time in the fight against the invaders.

The city has long maintained that bedbugs are not a major problem for schools, but parents and school personnel continue to complain about the pests — often without getting a response.

“Several teachers in my school have found bedbugs in their classrooms. At least one has given a bedbug sample to the principal. A student even complained of being bit by bedbugs in the classroom,” a teacher wrote to GothamSchools today. “My principal is not remotely interested in the issue and does not respond to staff emails about our concerns. What can we do?”

One caution: The collateral damage of waging war against bedbugs can be costly for schools. After four classrooms at Brooklyn’s PS 107 were damaged during bedbug fumigation last fall, teachers had to hold a car wash to replace supplies.

Here’s the complete press release from Stringer’s office:

BOROUGH PRESIDENT STRINGER HAILS IMPORTANT VICTORY IN BATTLE TO RID NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS OF BEDBUGS

Hailing “an important victory” in the battle to rid New York’s public schools of bed bugs, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer on Thursday congratulated the Department of Education (DOE) for agreeing to his suggestion that school officials should be able to email evidence of bed bugs to DOE for a rapid identification and response—instead of mailing them and waiting days for an answer.

“Bed bugs have no place in our classrooms, and that’s why I asked the city back in November to speed up the process by which school officials alert DOE to infestations,” Stringer said. “Although I’m concerned that it took this long to adopt a common-sense procedure, I’m glad to have played a role in bringing about a needed change.”

Although DOE did not publicly respond to the Borough President’s request last year for a speedier procedure, the new guidelines were recently distributed to principals. School officials now have the option of emailing photographs of a suspected pest to [email protected] Earlier, the Borough President noted, they were required to capture a specimen, position it in a plastic bag, seal the bag, secure it with tape and send the specimen through the U.S. mail to DOE in Long Island, City. Only then, after an identification process that could take days, would the DOE respond.

“Anyone who has ever discovered bed bugs in their home—or suspects they are present—would never stand for such a slow-moving reaction,” Stringer said. “We still have to combat this problem wherever it surfaces in our schools, but at least now parents, teachers and administrators can get a more instant response. The longer we have to wait for DOE to respond, the more difficult and costly an infestation will be to control.”

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.”