allocation appeal

Creative budgeting not enough to close gaps, principals say

Principals are famously told to “be creative” during school budget season. This year is no different, but with cuts to city, state, and federal funding all taking their toll, some school leaders are saying creativity isn’t enough.

Some of them are pushing back, filing appeals with the Department of Education to restore hundreds of thousands of dollars back into to their schools.

Joseph Nobile, a veteran principal at P.S. 304 Early Childhood School in the Bronx, said he and his budget liaison tweaked projections, shuffled funds, and excessed staff to stretch his $4.7 million as far as it could go.

“After all of the moving around, we were still down $350,000,” Nobile said. So for the first time in his 12 years on the job, Nobile said he had no choice but to file an appeal.

Nobile said the money he requested would go toward retaining the school’s lone curriculum coach, as well as four special education specialists. The additional personnel is especially important at P.S. 304 because it is part of a citywide pilot to move as many special education students as possible into mainstream classes.

Schools are feeling the pinch more than ever because of third consecutive year of budget cuts. Adding to that, the city made it tougher for some schools with large percentages of poor students to qualify for federal aid.

As a result, the number of appeals this year could far outnumber last year’s total of 166.

A DOE spokeswoman said she wouldn’t know how many appeals are being filed until July 22, when the final budgets are due.

At P.S. 3, a growing school in the West Village, principal Lisa Siegman said her budget would not have allowed her to open in September.

“I couldn’t staff the school for the classrooms,” Siegman said of her $5.4 million baseline budget.

Enrollment from students zoned for her school was projected to increase and she is required by law to provide seats for that population. To satisfy those mandates, Siegman has to hire to new teachers, but there wasn’t money in her budget for it.

Siegman, who estimated that her appeal was for about $245,000, said her hands were tied when it comes to these budget requirements and class size limits.

“I can make creative decisions. I can have a teacher doing two different jobs within a school. I can decide to have  a literacy coach or not a literacy coach,” Siegman said. “But I can’t allocate more funds. I can’t go to larger class sizes.”

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.”