Chartered Ride

Far Rockaway charter school takes its fight 23 miles to Tweed

Parents from Peninsula Preparatory Academy get in one last chant before jumping on a chartered bus.

Parents of Peninsula Preparatory Academy believe politics is what doomed their school to closure in the first place. Now, they’re hoping the very same forces will keep it open.

With the support of State Sen. Malcolm Smith and City Councilman James Sanders, Jr., more than 100 PPA parents and supporters made the 23-mile trek from Far Rockaway, Queens to lower Manhattan to protest at the Department of Education against its decision to close the school.

Smith didn’t attend the rally, but a spokeswoman said he donated $600 to pay for one of the buses. Smith’s support for the school is well-documented. He served on the founding board of Victory Schools, Inc., a for-profit charter school management company until 2006 and sponsored a $100,000 member item for Peninsula Prep to buy computers in 2010, a move that raised eyebrows at the time from good government advocates. Smith did not respond to requests for comment.

Sanders, Jr. attended, but admitted he previously didn’t know much about school’s plight. He said he threw his support behind it once he saw how much his constituents cared about the issue.

“Was it Gandhi who said, ‘there go the people. I must follow them because I am their leader’?” said Sanders, Jr. “When my bosses are going to a place where they feel strongly about something, ten to one, that’s a place I should be.”

Much of the organizing so far has occurred amongst the parents, with limited support from advocacy groups or elected officials. Organizing for closing schools usually comes from the teachers union or groups that it supports, such as the Alliance for Quality Education. But Peninsula Prep is a nonunion charter school, and its location on the Far Rockaways, an isolated area with a longstanding sense of neglect, has made it a difficult for parents to drum up support.

That’s why the parents took their protest to the steps of Tweed this afternoon, parents said today.

“We had to come out here and show that the parents were willing to jump on buses, all the way from Rockaway, take the day off of work, and come stand up for a school that we think has served our children well,” said Josmar Trujillo, the school’s PTO co-president.

With the help of a representative from Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, parents marched around City Hall and then spent more than an hour at Tweed, shouting chants like “PPA, All the Way” and “Save our School.”

Chancellor Dennis Walcott has agreed to meet with parents and board members to discuss the school’s status. DOE officials said one of the reasons its is closing the school, which received a C on its progress report, is because it failed to meet its charter’s academic goals. It was the first time that the DOE had moved to close a mediocre charter school and, with few quality school options available to them, parents said it was a politically-motivated decision.

“The major talking point is, if we’re a C school, PPA has outperformed the schools that you are referring us to,” said Lisa George, co-president of PPA’s parent organization. “We’re asking for Walcott to please reconsider his decision and give us at least another year to prove to him that we can get A’s.”


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.”