dollars and cents

New school construction estimates rise slightly after dropping

Under Albany’s new budget agreement, New York City’s school capital plan will regain roughly 12,000 seats — a boon to school officials who expected harsher cuts, but a number that does not meet earlier demand estimates.

In November of last year, city officials estimated that they would need to increase earlier seat construction projections in the face of overcrowding in schools. At the time, they planned for 50,074 new seats to be built by 2014, many of them in elementary and middle schools where demand had ballooned.

Then came a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo to cap state spending on school construction aid. The plan would have significantly reduced the state’s contribution. To absorb the cut, city officials said they wouldn’t be able to build thousands of the seats they had planned on — a decision that would have affected schools in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Riverdale, Bronx, the most.

But now that Cuomo’s proposal has not been included in the budget agreement, the numbers have changed again. With $1.7 billion more to spend on school construction, the city can now afford to build about 26,500 seats, instead of the roughly 14,000 it had planned on.

City officials said that more information about which neighborhoods would benefit from the seat construction increase, and which would not feel any effect, would be released tomorrow.

CHANCELLOR-DESIGNEE WALCOTT ANNOUNCES 12,000 SCHOOL SEATS AND $1.75 BILLION RESTORED TO DEPARTMENT’S CAPITAL PLAN

Meeting with Assembly and Senate Education Committees in Albany, Chancellor-Designee Walcott Says Swift Action by Legislature Helps City Restore Nearly 12,000 School Seats for Construction

Chancellor-Designee Dennis M. Walcott today announced a new proposed amendment to the Department of Education’s Five-Year Capital Plan, which restores 11,979 school seats for construction and $1.75 billion in total funding for the plan. The amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 – 2014 Five-Year Capital Plan now proposes funding for 28,866 new school seats citywide and a total investment of $11.1 billion over five years.  The Chancellor-Designee was in Albany to meet with the State’s Assembly and Senate Education Committees.

“For months now, we have faced the prospect of big cuts in aid from Albany that would have meant fewer new school seats and more overcrowding,” said Chancellor-Designee Walcott. “Today, I’m pleased to announce that the Legislature has come through for New York City, putting us back on track to add over 28,000 seats in neighborhoods with the most need. We’re also investing in critical technology and infrastructure for our schools and moving forward with a plan to improve energy use and environmental quality of our buildings. I’d like to thank the Legislature, and particularly Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan and Senate Education Chair John Flanagan, for their leadership in protecting State support for school construction.”

The new April amendment to the capital plan restores funding by $1.75 billion, bringing the total to $11.1 billion over five years. The portion of that total dedicated to capacity is now $4.6 billion, a $1.7 billion restoration, which funds a total of 28,866 seats for construction or design. The new amendment also brings capital investment to $6.5 billion in order to fund critical upgrades to school infrastructure, including an additional $141 million for the City’s comprehensive plan to increase energy efficiency and environmental quality in public schools.

In February, the Department proposed an amendment to the capital plan based on the Governor’s original proposed cap on building aid, which would have cut the State’s commitment to the City by 48% and forced the delay of 17,000 new seats. The Governor’s proposal was not included in the State’s adopted budget. With State funding restored, the Department is now able to fund 26,552 seats for construction and an additional 2,314 seats for design. The 26,552 seats fully funded for design and construction is a nearly 12,000 seat increase over the February amendment.

The new April amendment will be reviewed and voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy. It will then be forwarded to the City Council for review and approval as part of the City’s annual budget adoption process.

The School Construction Authority manages new school construction and renovation of the City’s existing school buildings for the Department of Education. Over the last seven years, the City has improved construction efficiency and implemented a comprehensive capital planning process that ensures school construction keeps pace with student demand. Through these efforts, more than 100,000 school seats have been constructed since 2003, including 24,995 in the Bronx, 24,463 in Brooklyn, 12,987 in Manhattan, 32,524 in Queens, and 5,619 in Staten Island.

rules and regs

New York adds some flexibility to its free college scholarship rules. Will it be enough for more students to benefit?

PHOTO: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his 2017 regional State of the State address at the University at Albany.

New York is offering more wiggle room in a controversial “Excelsior” scholarship requirement that students stay in-state after graduating, according to new regulations released Thursday afternoon.

Members of the military, for example, will be excused from the rule, as will those who can prove an “extreme hardship.”

Overall, however, the plan’s rules remain strict. Students are required to enroll full-time and to finish their degrees on time to be eligible for the scholarship — significantly limiting the number who will ultimately qualify.

“It’s a high bar for a low-income student,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University. “It’s going to be the main reason why students lose the scholarship.”

The scholarship covers free college tuition at any state college or university for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. But it comes with a major catch: Students who receive Excelsior funding must live and work in New York state for the same number of years after graduation as they receive the scholarship. If they fail to do so, their scholarships will be converted to loans, which the new regulations specify have 10-year terms and are interest-free.

The new regulations allow for some flexibility:

  • The loan can now be prorated. So if a student benefits from Excelsior for four years but moves out of state two years after graduation, the student would only owe two years of payments.
  • Those who lose the scholarship but remain in a state school, or complete a residency in-state, will have that time count toward paying off their award.
  • Members of the military get a reprieve: They will be counted as living and working in-state, regardless of where the person is stationed or deployed.
  • In cases of “extreme hardship,” students can apply for a waiver of the residency and work requirements. The regulations cite “disability” and “labor market conditions” as some examples of a hardship. A state spokeswoman said other situations that “may require that a student work to help meet the financial needs of their family” would qualify as a hardship, such as a death or the loss of a job by a parent.
  • Students who leave the state for graduate school or a residency can defer repaying their award. They would have to return to New York afterwards to avoid having the scholarship convert to a loan.

Some of law’s other requirements were also softened. The law requires students to enroll full-time and take average of 30 credits a year — even though many SUNY and CUNY students do not graduate on time. The new regulations would allow students to apply credits earned in high school toward the 30-credit completion requirement, and stipulates that students who are disabled do not have to enroll full-time to qualify.

language proficiency

Educators working on creating more bilingual students worry new state requirements aren’t high enough

A second grade class at Bryant Webster K-8 school in Denver (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Colorado educators who led the way in developing high school diploma endorsements recognizing bilingual students worry that new legislation establishing statewide standards for such “seals of biliteracy” sets the bar too low.

Two years ago, Denver Public Schools, Eagle County Schools and the Adams County School District 14 started offering the seal of biliteracy to their students. The three districts worked together to find a common way to assess whether students are fluent in English and another language, and recognize that on high school diplomas. Advocates say the seal is supposed to indicate to colleges and employers that students are truly bilingual.

A bill passed by state legislators this year that will go into effect in August sets a path for districts that want to follow that lead by outlining the minimum that students must do to prove they are fluent in English and in another language.

According to the new law, students must meet a 3.0 grade point average in their English classes and also earn a proficient score on the 11th grade state test, or on Advanced Placement or IB tests. For showing proficiency in the second language, students can either earn proficient scores on nationally recognized tests — or meet a 3.0 grade point average after four years of language classes.

Although educators say the law sends a message of support for bilingual education, that last criteria is one part of what has some concerned.

“It allows for proficiency in a world language to be established solely by completing four years of high school language classes,” said Jorge Garcia, executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education. “Language classes in one school district may have a different degree of rigor than they do in another.”

The second language criteria should be comparable to the English criteria, several educators said. In the requirements set by Denver, Eagle County and Adams 14, students must at a minimum demonstrate language proficiency through a test score, or in some cases with a portfolio review and interview if a test is not available.

The three districts also catered their requirements based on what each community said was important. In Adams 14 and in Eagle schools, students must perform community service using their language skills. Students also have to do an interview in both languages with a community panel.

“Our school district team developed the community service criteria because we wanted our kids to have authentic practice in their languages,” said Jessica Martinez, director of multilingual education for Eagle County Schools. “We also wanted students to be a bridge to another community than their own. For example, one group of students created academic tutoring services for their peers who don’t yet speak a lot of English. Another student started tutoring her mom and her parents’ friends so they could get their GED.”

The state law doesn’t require students to do community service. But it does allow school districts to go above the state’s requirements when setting up their biliteracy programs.

“Thoughtful school districts can absolutely address these concerns,” Garcia said.

Several school districts in the state are looking to start their own programs. In March, the school board for the Roaring Fork School District in Glenwood Springs voted to start offering the seal. Summit School District also began offering the seal this year.

Leslie Davison, the dual language coordinator for Summit, said that although her program will change in the next year as she forms more clear requirements around some new tests, she will continue to have higher requirements than the state has set.

This year her students had prove proficiency in their second language by taking a test in that language. They also had to demonstrate English proficiency through the ACT. In addition, students did oral presentations to the community in both languages.

“Their expectations aren’t as high as mine are,” Davison said. “We’ll probably stay with our higher-level proficiencies. I do have some work to do in terms of how that’s going to look for next year, but I certainly don’t want to just use seat time.”

Meanwhile, the districts that started the seal are increasing their commitment to biliteracy so as many students as possible can be eligible to earn seals in the future.

The Adams 14 school district in Commerce City is using Literacy Squared, a framework written by local researchers for teaching students to read English by strengthening literacy in the native language. The program is being rolled up year by year and will serve students in 34 classrooms from preschool through fourth grade in the fall.

In Eagle County, Martinez said parents have shown such a strong demand for biliteracy that most elementary schools are now dual language schools providing instruction to all students in English for half of the school day and in Spanish for the other half.

Both districts are also increasing the offerings of language classes in middle and high school. The options are important for students who are native English speakers so they too can become bilingual and access the seal. For students whose primary language is not English, the classes can help ensure they don’t lose their primary language as they learn English.

Of Eagle’s 25 students who graduated with a seal of biliteracy this year, 17 were native Spanish speakers and eight were native English speakers.

“We want all kids to see their bilingualism is an asset,” Martinez said. “It’s huge for them.”