election day

Delayed notice threatens turnout for run-off CEC elections

Add one more snag to the list of woes plaguing this year’s community education council elections. Dozens of run-off elections happened this week with such scant notice that several parent leaders said that they weren’t aware the election existed until hours after it began.

The 48-hour run-off elections began Wednesday after first-round elections in 27 districts yielded either ties or fewer than the nine required council representatives. But information about the run-off was not announced until hours after online ballot boxes opened yesterday. Even then, several of the parent leaders who vote in these elections said that they weren’t notified of the run-offs .

The election will decide who will serve two-year terms on the community education councils beginning next school year. Representatives are scheduled to be announced tomorrow.

Caroline Hall, PTA co-president at P.S. 151, said she learned about the run-off from another parent yesterday.

“We didn’t get any official notification,” said Hall, whose husband, the PTA treasurer, is also one of the so-called “selector” parent leaders who vote in the elections. “If we weren’t the kind of people who were diligent, we would have given up.”

Another parent, Caroline Breuers, the president of the PTA at P.S. 177 in Queens, said that she discovered there was a run-off in her district by accident by visiting Powertotheparents.org, the website where parents vote. The website posted information about the run-offs at 9:51 a.m. yesterday morning, nearly 10 hours into the election.

After parent leaders learned about the run-off yesterday morning, they exchanged emails but still couldn’t confirm if it had begun.

A DOE spokesperson stood by the process. She said that the Office of Family Information Action, which handles the election, placed more than 3,000 individual phone calls about the run-offs on Tuesday. Breuers and other parents said they didn’t receive calls until after 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Hall said that she never received a phone call.

In a message timestamped for 12:11 p.m. Wednesday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott emailed selectors to notify them of the run-off.

“Please be advised that several districts need to have run-off elections because some candidates have tied votes,” the email read. “As a PA/PTA selector in the Community and Citywide Education Council elections, you are responsible for casting your vote in the event of a run-off election.”

Even some parents who were notified said that they could not vote because they had discarded their log-in number, which they used in last week’s election. Selectors were told to call OFIA to get the number, but several said that they found the line busy for most of the day.Breuers said that she left three phone messages, but only received a response after she emailed officials and cc’ed Walcott.

“The only way you get a concrete answer is if you cc the chancellor,” said Breuers. “And that’s pathetic to me because some parents would never email the chancellor.”

The run-off confusion is the latest in a long line of challenges to the election process, which began in May when parent complaints that candidates were left off ballots led school officials to reschedule the election. This year’s election is the first to be held online.

In an advisory vote, a straw ballot election in which all parents in the city are eligible to vote, just 2,768 votes were tallied. That’s just 10 percent of the 2009 totals and equates to less than two parents per school. The advisory vote acts as a guide for the smaller group of selector parents who vote in the actual election.

The remnants of the old community school boards, which held wide power over the schools in their area, Community Education Councils are made up of nine elected parents and four other members nominated by elected officials. Since Mayor Bloomberg won control of the schools, they have served a mainly advisory role on policy. They are still responsible for approving any school rezoning proposals.

Noah Gotbaum, the president of Community District Education Council 3, said the handling of the elections was emblematic of the Bloomberg administration’s commitment to parent groups.

“It is a complete and total travesty, but we’re not surprised because the bottom line is we know that the DOE really has no interest in having functioning CECs,” Gotbaum 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.”