lion with nine lives

Lehman HS removed from closure roster, again, but will shrink

A Lehman High School teacher dressed as the school’s mascot—a lion—spoke at the school’s “turnaround” closure hearing in 2012.

For the third time in just over a year, Herbert H. Lehman High School is being pulled off of the chopping block.

The Department of Education announced today that it would withdraw proposals to close Lehman and one other school, P.S. 140 in Queens. The two schools were among 24 facing closure votes at Monday’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

Department officials said they had reviewed the public comments made at the schools’ closure hearings and determined that they were likely to improve in the future. It’s a determination the department has made for a couple of schools each year, usually just days before the PEP is scheduled to vote on their closure plans.

Despite the announcement, Lehman will not actually stay open in its current form. The department announced that the school would shrink over time — from more than 2,700 students this year to about 1,000 in the future — and would still have three new schools open in its building next year, for a total of six in the building.

Principal Rose Lobianco said at the school’s closure hearing last month that the school was poised to improve after already shrinking by more than 700 students in the last year. Having a smaller register reduced some of the pressure on the school’s resources, she said, allowing teachers to help students earn more credits.

The school could have gotten even better had the department not subjected it to multiple overhaul plans in recent years, Lobianco said. The school had been slated to undergo the “turnaround” closure process last year before a labor arbitrator ruled that the turnaround plan violated the city’s contracts with the teachers and principals unions, and it lost a third of its teachers over the summer as a result.

The turmoil took a toll on students’ and staff’s “emotional stability,” Lobianco said at the hearing. “If our community had not experienced all of these constant changes, our growth could have been even more dramatic.”

In addition to shortening the list of closure votes, the department also trimmed next week’s PEP agenda by moving votes on 11 other proposals about how to use school space to a second meeting this month.

The deferred votes include those about opening the New American Academy Charter School in Brooklyn’s Tilden campus and adding East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School II to an East Harlem building where parents had other plans. Both of the proposals are likely to attract large numbers of opponents to the second meeting, on March 20.

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.