summer session

Middle schools scramble after summer program funds shifted to struggling schools

PHOTO: Mayor's Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio at M.S. 331 talking about after-school programs for middle school students in 2014.

More than 40 middle schools participating in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new after-school initiative have learned they will have to cancel their upcoming summer programs, just months after being told that funding would be available.

The money, a city official said in an email to after-school program directors last week, was being “re-directed to schools with the greatest challenges.” The news came days after de Blasio announced that he was pumping an extra $50 million of city and state money into 130 struggling schools, including the 94 in his administration’s turnaround program.

Now, the middle schools need to make other plans.

“What can I say?” said Principal Ron Link of Theatre Arts Production Company School in the Bronx, who got the news on Wednesday afternoon. “That’s the nature of the principal’s job. You get constant news out of left field.”

The summer program would have been an extension of the mayor’s new after-school initiative for middle-schoolers, called School’s Out New York City, which has programs in more than 560 schools this year. Directors of those middle-school programs were told in a February email that the city was “excited” that funding had become available for the summer. By the end of March, a few dozen programs had been given the green light to start up again in July for at least four weeks.

But an official told program directors in an email on May 8 that while overall funding for the after-school programs had increased, “some of the City’s planned summer funding will be re-directed.”

“We are unable to expand summer services as previously proposed,” wrote Mike Dogan, assistant commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development.

Advocates are concerned that other, established programs that serve students over the summer will also see funding reductions under the mayor’s latest spending plan, including Beacon community centers and the Cornerstone programs that operate in public housing. The Campaign for Children, a 150-member coalition of early education and after-school groups that include the Children’s Aid Society and the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, estimated Wednesday that the changes to the three programs will affect 17,000 students.

“Programs are really quite frankly in a panic,” said Citizens’ Committee for Children executive director Jennifer March.

Dayana Perez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Youth and Community Development, said in statement that the city is still funding middle-school summer programs that existed before this year’s after-school expansion, including Beacon and Cornerstone programs in the city’s highest-needs communities, and that the Department of Education is continuing Summer Quest and its own arts- and STEM-focused summer programs. Officials said the city is budgeting for 39,000 summer program seats for elementary schoolers and 17,000 for middle-schoolers.

“The executive budget ensures that much-needed services are available to high-need students at 130 struggling schools,” Perez said. “This administration has made afterschool expansion a priority, and we will continue to work to make comprehensive afterschool opportunities available to all students.”

Still, the Campaign for Children estimates that it would cost at least $10.2 million to make the proposed middle-school summer programs a reality and boost funding at the Beacon sites and Cornerstone programs to their expected levels. And though the City Council has historically stepped in to fill gaps in after-school funding, March said any emergency funding included in a budget adopted in June likely wouldn’t come fast enough.

“Parents aren’t going to wait until June 30 to figure out what they’re doing with their kids the following week,” March said.

Geoff Decker contributed reporting.

getting to know you

These 10 Colorado lawmakers are rethinking how the state pays for its public schools

PHOTO: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
State Sen. Rachel Zezninger, an Arvada Democrat, on the first day of the legislative session.

Ten Colorado lawmakers, many with longstanding ties to the education community, are set to begin debating the future of Colorado’s school finance system.

The legislative group tasked with studying and making recommendations about how the state pays for public education includes former teachers and superintendents, a former State Board of Education member and a practicing charter school lawyer.

State Rep. Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat, will lead the committee during its first year.

Garnett helped establish the committee earlier this year when he co-sponsored House Bill 1340 with state Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican. Lundeen also will serve on the panel.

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, will be the vice-chair.

The committee was formed against a backdrop of fear that the state’s schools would face deep budget cuts next school year. However, lawmakers at the last minute averted putting the state’s schools in an even deeper financial hole.

Still, lawmakers from both parties and members of the state’s education community agree the funding system is outdated and in need of a massive overhaul. The state last made significant changes to the system in 1994.

The committee’s first meeting is scheduled for July 24. Among its first decisions will be selecting a third-party consultant to help with research and guide discussions and decisions.

Here’s the full committee:

  • State Rep. Alec Garnett, Denver Democrat, chair
  • State Sen. Owen Hill, Colorado Springs Republican, vice chair
  • State Sen. Janet Buckner, Aurora Democrat
  • State Sen. Bob Gardner, Colorado Springs Republican
  • State Rep. Millie Hamner, Frisco Democrat
  • State Rep. Timothy Leonard, Evergreen Republican
  • State Rep. Paul Lundeen, Monument Republican
  • State Sen. Michael Merrifield, Colorado Springs Democrat
  • State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, Sterling Republican
  • State Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, Arvada Democrat

Standing alone

New report blasts Colorado for allowing tiny districts to net more school funding by breaking away from larger districts

A new national report on school districts that break away from larger districts criticizes Colorado for incentivizing that path in rural Yuma County.

While the report from the nonprofit EdBuild spotlights a number of districts nationwide that have seceded from larger urban districts to avoid racial and socioeconomic integration, the motivation in Yuma was getting more school funding for tiny rural communities.

In 2001, two school districts on the Eastern Plains — East Yuma and West Yuma — split into four smaller districts: Yuma, Wray and the much smaller Idalia and Liberty. Voters approved the splits in 2000. The idea was to secure more state funding by taking advantage of a new law, pushed through by the local state representative, that would give extra dollars to small districts created by boundary changes approved in that year’s election. (Normally, small districts created by such splits aren’t entitled to more state money.)

PHOTO: EdBuild

The plan worked, netting big per-pupil increases for Idalia, which has about 225 students, and Liberty, which has about 80. In the 2016-17 school year, Yuma and Wray received around $5,500 in state funding for each student while Idalia received about $10,000 and Liberty received about $9,100, according to the Colorado Department of Education.

An East Yuma school board member said before the split, “It would have been nice if [the state] could have provided funding without splitting us, but there was no other way.”

The 2000 Westword story that quoted the board member also described how at first the legislation allowing an exception for districts like those in Yuma County seemed destined to fail. Some lawmakers instead proposed that the Idalia and Liberty schools be closed. But testimony from a fifth-grade girl who’d have a longer bus ride if her Idalia school closed helped put the proposal back on track.

For the small communities that felt shortchanged when they were part of larger districts, the new law provided a major financial boost. But the authors of the EdBuild report argue that it was misguided state policy.

They say the Yuma splits created new duplicative bureaucracies and waste state taxpayers’ money.

By “rewarding small size, Colorado is incentivizing poor financial management, throwing good money after bad and dividing communities along the way,” write the authors.

The report, released Wednesday, is called, “Fractured: The Breakdown of America’s School Districts.