budget breakdown

Bloomberg's proposed layoffs would slash arts education

City Councilman Robert Jackson speaks at a protest against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall.
City Councilmember Robert Jackson speaks at a protest against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall.

Roughly 350 arts specialists will be among the 4,000 teacher layoffs next year if the City Council signs onto Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget, according to a report released today by an arts education advocacy group.

Building on 135 arts positions eliminated this school year, the layoffs would amount to a 20 percent reduction in the number of arts teachers working in city schools in just the last three years.

Eight City Council members and dozens of angry parents came to City Hall today to announce the report, prepared by the Center for Arts Education, and to protest the potential cuts.

Gretchen Mergenthaler, whose eight-year-old son Declan attends P.S. 98 in Inwood, said that he is offered either art or music once each week, but no dance or theater.

“We have a gorgeous auditorium that we don’t even use,” Mergenthaler said. “This is a picture of P.S. 98 before any budget cuts. Can you imagine it after?”

Today’s report is an analysis of data that the city has been releasing since it overhauled the way arts funding is allotted to schools.

The overhaul gave principals the freedom to determine their own arts spending, but required that they report their decisions in more detail than had happened previously. The idea was that reporting requirements would serve as a way to hold principals accountable for investing sufficiently in the arts.

“We’re going to help them,” CAE director Richard Kessler said in 2007, adding, “And hold their feet to the fire.”

Kessler was vocal in his criticism of the changes then, which prompted the Center for Arts Education to move from working with schools to evaluating the city’s arts programs.

The city has maintained that the changes have not hurt the quality of their arts offerings.

In a statement, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that in the last eight years, city schools have become models for arts instruction and the number of students receiving arts instruction has increased.

“So even with impending layoffs, I am confident we will be able to build on the significant progress we have made revitalizing arts in the schools,” he said.

But today’s report paints a dismal picture of what has happened since. In addition to losses in the number of arts teachers, funding for art supplies also dropped to about $2 per student in the 2009-10 school year.

“What can you buy with two dollars? A box of chalk? A couple of paintbrushes?” said Doug Israel, the director of research and policy at the Center for Arts Education. “Especially here in New York City, it’s surprising and shocking that this would occur.”

During the rally, Council Member Robert Jackson, who chairs the council’s education committee, held a paper microphone and a sad-face mask up to his face and pretended to cry. “I need my programs in art and music and theater!” he said.

Jackson, whose daughter is a dancer, said, “If children couldn’t sing, dance, play instruments, they’d be crying.”

Other parents said that’s already happening. Carlton Curry, whose seven-year-old daughter Carleta attends P.S. 126 in the Bronx, said that cultural nights at his school have had to be rescheduled because of problems getting supplies.

After the rally, Jackson said that he still believed that it was possible to fend off the cuts if elected officials and parents keep the pressure on the mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“I think it’s realistic, it’s possible, if the parties are willing to be flexible,” Jackson said. “The game plan is to continue the press conferences, the rallies, the phone calls, all the things necessary to communicate how important this is.”

Center for Arts Education Report, 6/9/11//

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

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.