in the streets

Before City Council's budget hearing, a rally against layoff plans

Protesters against teacher layoffs during a rally on the steps of City Hall.

Under a blazing sun, protesters rallied on the steps of City Hall today before the City Council’s education budget hearing against the Department of Education’s plans to lay off more than 4,000 teachers.

Speakers at the rally included elected officials, union leaders, parents, community advocates, and even a star of the sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun.” Dozens more — including at least 15 City Council members, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer — stood behind to cheer their support. Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee, led the rally.

“Protect our children, not millionaires,” the protesters chanted in between speakers.

They focused their criticism on what they said were misplaced priorities by the Bloomberg administration. The city’s rich, they said, should shoulder more of the burden in the form of higher taxes and fewer pricey consulting contracts.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said increasing class sizes would directly hurt the education quality received by New York’s public school students. In the wake of budget deficits, he said, the DOE’s budget “shouldn’t be about the kids becoming part of the shared sacrifice.”

The city’s budget deficit should affect “not just the little folks, not just the poor folks, not just the children,” pleaded Ernest Logan, president of the principals union.

Mayor Bloomberg shouldered most of the criticism from the protesters. One sign portrayed Bloomberg on a milk carton as “Missing: The Education Mayor.” Another read: “Remove snow, not teachers,” referring to the city’s troubled clean-up from a series of snowstorms in December.

But it was Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott who would be grilled by council members at the budget hearing, which began shortly after 10:00 a.m.

Parent Sarah Porter, of P.S. 132 in Brooklyn, spoke while holding her young son. She demanded that Mayor Bloomberg lobby the state to reinstate the millionaire’s tax as a way to find revenue for the education budget. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Millionaires can tighten their belts as well,” she said.

Also speaking out against the city’s plans to cut teachers was Kristen Johnson, best known for her role as an alien on “Third Rock From the Sun,” making what she said was her first public advocacy appearance.

“I just think it’s sick,” said Johnson, who is part of Sobriety Learning and Motivation, an organization that is trying to build a high school for students recovering from substance abuse. “Shouldn’t kids be our first priority?” she said.

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.”