the road to city hall

Mayoral hopefuls stump before anti-Bloomberg education group

Comptroller John Liu was one of four likely mayoral candidates to speak at an event in Harlem hosted by a group that opposes the Bloomberg administration’s school policies.

In a series of short stump speeches last night to a group fiercely opposed Mayor Bloomberg, four Democratic mayoral contenders delivered abbreviated versions of their visions for the future of education in New York City.

Given just five minutes to speak, the candidates didn’t have much time to get into specifics — something that, 10 months before the primary election, most are being careful about doing.

If anything, the night was an opportunity to make a good first impression for New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, the group formed by union and progressive community leaders to oppose the Bloomberg administration’s schools policies in the mayoral election. Interspersed among the candidates’ speeches, parents and religious leaders criticized the co-locations, budget cuts, and school closures that have taken place under Mayor Bloomberg.

The appearance was also an important one to make for candidates who hope their path to victory includes a coveted endorsement from the teachers union.

As each candidate was being introduced, he or she took a seat next to United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew in the front pew. Then each candidate had five minutes — which sometimes stretched closer to 10 — to make his or her case to the audience of more than 1,000 parents, community leaders, and activists who had crowded into Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church.

The first candidate to speak was Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who criticized the Bloomberg administration’s handling of school closures and co-locations.

“Are we actually trying to save schools, or are we taking the cheap way out and closing schools that could be saved?” de Blasio asked. (De Blasio has previously said he supports school co-locations, though not in the way Bloomberg has handled them.)

But de Blasio did not go as far as two other contenders, Bill Thompson and Comptroller John Liu. Both said they would put an immediate end to closures, while Liu called for a moratorium on co-locations as well, promises that went over well with the spirited crowd.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an early favorite in polls who is seen as Bloomberg’s closest ally, received the chilliest reception of the night. Her stump speech drew booing, led by Donny Moss, an activist who is one of Quinn’s fiercest detractors, not normally on education issues.

Quinn focused her speech on making kindergarten mandatory, something she encouraged legislators to do this year, and on the council’s efforts to boost middle school quality. She did not speak about school closures or co-locations, both of which she has said before that she supports.

“Quinn was dragging around the ball and chain of Michael Bloomberg, which will help her with some audiences, but clearly didn’t help her with this one,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of education at Brooklyn College who attended the event.

Organizers said after the event that they had come away optimistic that all of the candidates would represent a change from the status quo.

“All of the candidates started spelling out ways they will take the schools in a new direction by unifying New Yorkers around a positive agenda for reform,” said Zakiyah Ansari, a parent activist who is part of New Yorkers for Great Public Schools. “Each in their own way focused on supporting neighborhood schools which offers a clear difference from the divisive assault on communities of forced school closings.”

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.”