election 2013

Maybe-candidate Weiner's education priorities are a throwback

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 7.14.56 PMThe city’s schools are different now from how they were in 2009, the last time Anthony Weiner considered a mayoral run. Two chancellors have left, and two have arrived; budgets are tighter after successive years of cuts; and students and teachers are being asked to meet higher standards.

But for Weiner, the disgraced politician who is weighing a comeback mayoral candidacy, not much has changed. In a policy brief he released early this week as part of a media campaign to test the electoral waters, he lists school discipline as the city’s top education priority — just as he did in a similar document in 2009.

Weiner has drawn criticism for re-releasing the document, called “Keys to the City,” without a thorough revision. But the education section of the new version is more detailed than the 2009 version. Weiner lists 11 educational priorities, starting with “streamline the process of removing troublesome kids from the classroom” and ending with a proposal to give New Yorkers who complete a year of service a free year’s tuition at the City University of New York.

Ensuring school safety was also Weiner’s top priority in his 2005 mayoral run. Other education promises he made then, such as increasing teacher salaries, adopting a new curriculum, and scaling back the city’s Leadership Academy to train new principals, have since happened during the Bloomberg administration.

The new policy list does include a few adjustments to reflect contemporary issues. He now wants schools to “put a Kindle in every backpack,” and he also sides against the Bloomberg administration on the issue of whether religious groups should be able to use school buildings in the evenings and on weekends.

Some of Weiner’s suggested policies are similar to proposals other mayoral candidates have put forth. Comptroller John Liu wants to give a CUNY tuition break to all top high school graduates. And City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in a major education policy address in January, said she wants to buy 1 million tablets for city students.

In general, Weiner did not make education a major issue during his campaigns for mayor and Congress, focusing instead on health care and other policies. (In 2005, he withdrew before a runoff primary after coming in second to the man who ultimately lost to Bloomberg. In 2008, he was elected to Congress but resigned in 2011 amid a sexting scandal.)

Instead, his strongest ties to the city’s schools seem to be personal. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and has promised to send his (at the time, hypothetical) children to public schools.

His mother was also a longtime teacher at Brooklyn’s Midwood High School — mayoral candidate Bill Thompson’s alma mater — who retired with concerns about the Bloomberg administration’s education policies, according to a 2005 New York Observer profile.

Weiner’s full list of education priorities is below:

  1. Streamline the process of removing troublesome kids from the classroom
  2. Pay master teachers more for taking tough assignments
  3. Create a Master Teacher Academy
  4. Eliminate paid parent coordinators
  5. Make Catholic school preservation a Tweed mission
  6. Help private schools access security grants
  7. Reinvent teacher contracts for the new workforce realities
  8. Put a Kindle in every backpack
  9. Use federal standards for New York’s kids
  10. Let empty schools bustle after hours — even for churches
  11. Expand civic service with Gotham Corps

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.”