space wars

A charter school finds itself stuck between two controversies

Council member Steve Levin and State Assembly Member Joan Millman rally with staff, parents and children outside two closing day care centers.

(Update: A spokesperson for the city Administration for Children Services tells GothamSchools that Strong Place and Bethel Day Care Centers will continue operating until Friday, June 17, in order to give parents more time to find alternative care options.)

A charter school with an uncertain future has found private space for the next school year, hoping to appease the neighborhood opposition where it’s currently co-located.

But in the process, it collided with another citywide controversy: the mayor’s decision to close day care centers.

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has co-located at Sunset Park High School since it opened two years ago, but that community wants them out. So last week, the school signed a one-year lease this week to move into 238 Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill. A permanent, privately-funded facility scheduled to open in 2012 is being built down the road.

The challenge is that the previous tenants at the rental building were two popular day care centers that have been neighborhood institutions for over 30 years. Bethel Day Care and Strong Place Day Care are two of eight programs ending as a result of Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts.

Today, Bethel and Strong Place were among five centers to close their doors for good. Parents, employees and young children from the centers joined Council Member Steve Levin outside of the building to protest the cuts.

“We’re here to stand up against what the city has done. Stand up against what the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has done,” said Levin, who was joined by State Assembly Member Joan Millman and about 30 others. “These programs, we have fought for year after year, so that your children have a safe place to stay.”

The centers would have closed regardless, but Levin partially blamed Brooklyn Prospect’s pursuit of the $750,000 lease for the inability to restore funding.

“It’s tough enough to get funding restored for the daycare centers, but when you have a charter school come in and sign a lease, it makes it all the more difficult,” he said.

The lease includes a termination clause that would allow the centers to stay if they could afford the rent. That looked increasingly unlikely, however, with Bloomberg holding firm to his budget cuts.

Several parents pledged to return next week and resume their protest even though the centers’ doors would be closed.

“Keep on your toes because this fight is not over. We might have to be back here on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” Levin said to cheers.

If a termination clause is somehow enacted, Brooklyn Prospect would have to turn back to its original option, the contentious co-location at Sunset Park High School.

Sunset Park High School opened in 2009 in a brand new, five-story building with state-of-the-art facilities. It is the culmination of a nearly four-decade fight to build a high school for the neighborhood’s growing population. The financial crisis during the1970s initially stalled their efforts, but the community did not give up its fight.

Brooklyn Prospect opened the same year with one sixth grade class. It was supposed to be temporary, but the co-location was extended each of the last two years this year , leading critics to question whether it would ever leave.

“It flies in the face of DOE’s promise to our community, which fought for 40 years to get our one and only high school,” said Sunset Park’s Community Board Manager Jeremy Laufer. “Why should we now believe their promise that this will only be one year?”

Brooklyn Prospect executive director Daniel Rubenstein declined to comment.

As part of efforts to revise its co-location plans, the education department will hold a joint public hearing for Sunset Park High School, but it’s unclear whether that will be necessary now that Brooklyn Prospect has found its own space.

A Department of Education spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

NYC Charter School Center Chief Executive Officer James Merriman wrote in a blog post today that the criticism toward Brooklyn Prospect was misguided.

“The fact is that these two day care centers are being shut down because New York City has defunded them not because their space is being rented out to the charter school by a private landlord,” Merriman wrote.

“If ever there was a more damned if you do damned if you don’t situation, I haven’t seen it.”

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.”