safety net

Officials stand in shut schoolhouse doors to usher families away

District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop waited outside of the temporarily shuttered P.S. 15 in Red Hook this morning in case parents and students showed up. None did, she said.

District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop spent four hours this morning huddled in her car outside of P.S. 15 in Red Hook.

Her mission: to send away any families who brought their children to the school.

P.S. 15 is one of 57 schools so damaged by Hurricane Sandy that they cannot reopen this week in their own buildings. It is set to reopen on Wednesday at the P.S. 27 building, half a mile away.

In addition to the schools that will open in other buildings on Wednesday, 16 schools remained closed today because their buildings are still being used as shelters and 29 were shut because they still did not have power. For all 102 schools, the city has gone to extensive lengths to inform students and families to stay away today.

Over the weekend, the Department of Education made 1.1 million automatic phone calls to families at the schools, and full-page ads about the temporary closures and relocations appeared in several local newspapers today.

“We have robo-calls, our [parent] coordinators are making calls, and we’ll get the message to as many people as we can,” Mayor Bloomberg said during a news conference on Sunday.

But Bloomberg said he recognized even that might not be enough during a time when many families lack electricity, internet, and cell phone service.

“I’m sure we’re going to miss some people, and that’s just the reality of trying to do something that we have to do quickly,” he said.

So for those who might not have gotten the message, the city deployed district superintendents and other central administration officials to shuttered schools Monday morning.

Skop said being at P.S. 15 “just in case” a family showed up expecting to drop their children off would provide a personal touch for families who were likely to have been most affected by the storm.

“Here is a human body to say, let me tell you what the process is,” Skop said.

A large fuel tank parked outside P.S. 15 is warming the school so its pipes do not freeze while the heating system is down.

But about halfway into her shift, Skop said that so far the city’s pre-emptive warnings seemed to have worked.

“I’ve been here since 6:30 and no parents have come by yet,” said Skop, who said she planned to stay for another few hours to make sure no families arrived late.

P.S. 15 teachers today are reporting to the P.S. 27 school building a half mile away that also houses P.S. 676 and Summit Academy Charter School. Students are scheduled to report to that site starting on Wednesday.

Inside of P.S. 15, contractors and Division of School Facilities employees continued to work on the school, which was still without electricity and heat. A large fuel tank installed on the sidewalk was keeping the school warm to make sure that the pipes didn’t freeze as the temperatures dropped, a person working at the school said.

home sweet home

‘Finally! Something useful’ or a dangerous mistake? Detroiters respond to city’s housing deal for teachers

PHOTO: Detroit Land Bank Authority
This home on Harvard Road was up for auction the week after Detroit announced a half-off-on-city-owned housing deal for teachers.

Friday’s announcement that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter, or parochial schools — will get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority stirred a lot of discussion.

Some of our commenters on Facebook had high hopes for the deal:

But one commenter wondered if it’s the city of Detroit that’s actually getting the best deal, not the employees — or other people seeking to buy homes in the city:

And others argued that people who already live in Detroit won’t benefit from this deal:

Still, some readers appear to be ready to move — and have even picked homes to bid on (though not necessarily from the Land Bank Authority)!

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

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.