full court press

In court, UFT and NAACP ask for immediate halt to closure plans

UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks at an NAACP rally Friday morning. The organizations are the primary plaintiffs on a lawsuit against the Department of Education.

Seeking to force an immediately halt to the city’s plans to close 22 schools and co-locate another 19 charter schools, the teachers union and the NAACP asked for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education on Thursday.

The court request would force the plans to end whether or not a judge rules in favor of the original lawsuit challenging the city’s plans. That lawsuit, filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP last month, argues that the closures and co-locations create an unequal allocation of resources.

City school officials immediately criticized the attempted restraining order, describing a colliding impact that they said would target thousands of high school students.

Last year, when another lawsuit by the teachers union and the NAACP forced the city to reverse its plans to close struggling schools, the city delayed matching students to high schools until the outcome of the suit was clear. This year, the city has already matched students to high schools. It’s not obvious what would happen to re-match students to closing high schools, but school officials said the process would be chaotic.

“It would throw the high school admissions process into disarray,” a Department of Education official said, speaking on background.

Speaking to reporters at Tweed Courthouse today, Walcott said that he was concerned about the late timing of the request. “This changes the whole thing,” he said. “We can’t phase out the schools. We can’t co-locate new schools or new buildings into the schools themselves. We have people who are just on hold. People have selected high schools and have been matched to high schools.”

Teachers union officials said that the injunction simply asks the DOE to allow kids to return to the school they originally attended.

Hours earlier, the NAACP rallied uptown outside of the headquarters of Harlem Success Academy, the charter school network that Eva Moskowitz operates. Last week, Moskowitz was one of the charter school leaders who organized a 2,500-person rally targeting the NAACP in the courtyard in front of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, also in Harlem.

The NAACP’s gathering was significantly smaller — police estimated it at around 100 — but included fiery testimony from elected officials, parents, and union leaders who characterized the resources provided to charter school students as modern-day segregation.

Hazel Dukes, head of the New York NAACP, pledged to continue the fight for equality. “We’re going all the way to the promise land,” said Dukes. “This is just the beginning of our journey.”

Not everyone at the rally agreed. Behind the cameras, Daryl Winslow, a black father whose daughter attends one of Moskowitz Success charter schools, Bronx Success, shook his head and said that his daughter already read at a second grade level thanks to the school.

The NAACP rally, he said, was counterproductive. “It’s creating more separation, and it always involves more of our people to start it,” said Winslow. “I don’t care if you’re Jewish, Chinese, or Portuguese. As long as you get it right in the classroom.”

At Tweed Courthouse, Walcott reiterated his displeasure with the plaintiffs who filed the suit. “It’s ironic that these two groups, especially the NAACP, are deferring the dreams of our children,” he said. “There are choices that people want to make and as a result of this, that will not happen.”

Here’s the UFT’s request for a temporary restraining order:

UFT Memo in Support of TRO and Preliminary Injunction 6-2-11//

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.”