opening statement (updated)

As hearing begins, UFT and NAACP drop three schools from suit

A street fight preceded the courtroom fight today as supporters and opponents of a lawsuit to stop 22 school closures and 17 charter school co-locations held separate rallies before the suit’s first legal proceedings began.

About 50 supporters of the lawsuit gathered outside the building with signs that read “Separate and unequal” and “Thank you NAACP.” The suit’s opponents, mostly charter school advocates who have been agitating against the NAACP since shortly after the group filed the suit along with the city teachers union, had also called a rally to precede the hearing.

Geoff is on the scene at 60 Centre Street, the Manhattan State Supreme Court building where the hearing is taking place.

His first report is that lawyers for the UFT and NAACP started the day by removing three of the contested co-locations from the lawsuit. The charter schools involved are the same as those referenced (clumsily) in the press release — later retracted — that announced an agreement last week: Girls Preparatory Charter School, on the Lower East Side, and the two Promise Academy charter schools in Harlem.

The other two schools dropped from the lawsuit are run by the Harlem Children’s Zone, whose CEO, Geoffrey Canada, has been involved in talks to resolve the suit out of court.

One might think that a first agreement could augur more, but that’s not what city lawyers are arguing. They say that because the reason the three co-locations was removed from the lawsuit hasn’t been explained, there’s no evidence to suggest that amicable resolution is likely in the rest of the co-locations being contested.

UPDATE: Reached with news that Girls Prep had been dropped from the lawsuit this afternoon, the president of the Community Education Council for District 1, Lisa Donlan, said she was relieved.

“Everyone felt concerned that the large net that had been used had scooped up a co-location like ours that didn’t belong in it,” she said.

Donlan said the planned co-location between Girls Prep and East Side Community High School had been carefully negotiated within the community after the city’s bid for Girls Prep to share space with a different school was derailed by tensions last year, ultimately costing some Girls Prep students a month of classes. After the East Side Community High School home was named in the lawsuit alongside all other co-locations approved by the Panel for Educational Policy this spring, community members asked the UFT to revise, Donlan said.

“This is literally one that no one objected to,” she said. “This was a community-devised solution to a badly designed co-location from the year before.”

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.”