pep rally (corrected)

Liu proposes fixed terms, public nominations for PEP members

Comptroller John Liu's report on the Panel for Educational Policy includes a proposal for a nominating committee.

The city’s school board, used as a rubber stamp for mayoral proposals since 2002, would gain independence under a plan put forward today by Comptroller John Liu.

The plan makes Liu the first of the likely candidates for mayor to propose specific changes to the board, known since 2002 as the Panel for Educational Policy. Any changes would require the approval of the state legislature, which is next set to consider New York City’s school governance in 2015, to become permanent, but a new mayor could take some of the steps immediately upon taking office.

Whether and how to reform the panel is one of the stickiest questions that mayoral candidates face on education.

On the one hand, changing its structure would mean diminishing the mayor’s authority over the city’s schools. On the other, ceding some control would send a powerful signal that the new mayor intends to include parents and community members in decision-making about schools, something the Bloomberg administration has drawn fire for not doing.

Candidates have so far been closed-lipped about how they would handle the dilemma. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who formally announced his candidacy for mayor this week, said last April that the city should “not continue the status quo” but that he had not determined exactly how the panel should change.

Now, Liu — who has not yet formally declared his candidacy — has come down on the side of restructuring. Under his plan, the mayor would continue to pick eight of 13 panel members and each borough president would still appoint a public school parent — but many other features would change.

Instead of giving the mayor carte blanche to choose panel members, Liu would limit his or her picks — and those of the borough presidents — to people nominated by a selection committee made up of elected officials, community members, labor leaders, and educators. The committee would publicly screen candidates put forth by its members and the public and select two or three for each spot. Then the mayor would choose from the shortlisted options. Liu would not require the borough presidents to pick prescreened candidates, but they could.

Instead of serving at the will of the public official who appointed them, panel members would serve fixed four-year terms that could be ended only with “due cause.” Such a change would preclude a repeat of the “Monday Night Massacre,” when Bloomberg yanked panel members who said they would vote against his social promotion ban proposal in 2004.

And while the panel members currently serve on a volunteer basis and typically do not convene except at required monthly meetings, Liu would pay them a stipend and require them to sit on sub-committees focusing on different policy issues.

Finally, under Liu’s proposal, power to approve or reject the mayor’s pick for chancellor would move from the State Education Department to the panel, and chancellors would need to have “at least 10 years of successful experience as a public or private school educator.” Bloomberg received waivers from SED for each of his three chancellors because they did not meet a requirement that chancellors hold a superintendent’s license.

An architect of the original law giving control of the city schools to the mayor, former Assemblyman Steven Sanders, said he thought Liu was on the right track with some of his proposals but missed the mark on others.

“The notion that a mayor cannot find a qualified educator who is also a great administrator and innovator is simply absurd,” Sanders said, backing Liu’s proposal to require chancellors to have education experience. Sanders also said fixed terms would give panel members something he fought for and did not win in 2002: “some degree of independent thinking and oversight.”

But he said he thought Liu’s nominating process was not necessary. “Let the mayor appoint persons he likes and let the borough presidents do the same,” he said.

De Blasio and the other two Democratic candidates for mayor, City Council speaker Christine Quinn and former comptroller Bill Thompson, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Liu’s proposal or the structure of the PEP.

As comptroller, Liu is responsible for the city’s fiscal stewardship, and he released the report as part of a series in the “Beyond High School NYC” initiative, which aims to boost the number of city students who graduate from college and contribute to the city’s economy. A previous report in the series called for the city to spend $176 million a year on guidance counselors to help more students get into college.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately reflected some details of the comptroller’s proposal. It also said the changes would require legislative approval. In fact, a new mayor could make some of the proposed changes immediately.

Liu’s full report about the structure and responsibilities of the Panel for Educational Policy is below:

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.