rally rinse repeat

At morning ‘walk-ins,’ advocates press Cuomo for more school funding

A morning rally in front of Eagle Academy for Young Men II in Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Alliance for Quality Education.

Advocates took to the streets Thursday to continue a years-long fight for what they say the state owes city schools: $2.9 billion.

Parents and advocates held small rallies outside of four schools before classes started to demand more school funding. Afterwards, school leaders and organizers led parents into the schools for brief meetings, which they called “walk-ins,” where they urged parents to push their state representatives for more education spending.

The action was led by the Alliance for Quality Education, a New York-based advocacy group that has long called for the state to comply with a decades-old lawsuit, which set a minimum funding amount for New York City schools. Recently, they have joined with the city teachers union and Mayor Bill de Blasio in attacking Gov. Andrew Cuomo for failing to increase school spending to the level they say the city is owed.

Cuomo proposed a $24.5 billion education budget this year, a $1 billion over last year but less than what advocates and the state Board of Regents had sought.

“The governor’s budget is woefully inadequate,” said Billy Easton the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization at the forefront of the campaign for equal funding. “The consequences of inadequate funding have been cuts in all kinds of important programs like the arts, after school programming, and Advanced Placement courses.”

Thursday’s demonstrations across the state are part of a national campaign led by the Chicago-based Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. The group said 40,000 people from 838 schools nationwide had attended similar events.

Zakiyah Ansari, a community organizer with the Alliance for Quality Education, attended the rally outside Eagle Academy for Young Men II in Brooklyn, where her son is a student. She said that parents often have to help fill in budget gaps.

“Parents sometimes have to buy books and pay for supplies like copy paper,” she said. “Our kids deserve this money and as many opportunities as possible.”

Looming threat

Report: Looming financial threats could undermine ‘fresh’ start for new Detroit district

The creation of a new school district last year gave Detroit schools a break from years of crippling debt, allowing the new district to report a healthy budget surplus going into its second year.

It’s the first time since 2007 that the city’s main school district has ended the year with a surplus.

But a report released this morning — just days after Superintendent Nikolai Vitti took over the district — warns of looming financial challenges that “could derail the ‘fresh’ financial start that state policymakers crafted for the school district.”

The report, from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, notes that almost a third of the district’s $64 million surplus is the cost savings from more than 200 vacant teaching positions.

Those vacancies have caused serious problems in schools including classrooms crammed with 40 or 50 kids. The district says it’s been trying to fill those positions. But as it struggles to recruit teachers, it is also saving money by not having to pay them.

Other problems highlighted in the report include the district’s need to use its buildings more efficiently at a time when many schools are more than half empty. “While a business case might be made to close an under-utilized building in one part of the city, such a closure can create challenges and new costs for the districts and the families involved,” the report states. It notes that past school closings have driven students out of the district and forced kids to travel long distances to school.

The report also warns that if academics don’t improve soon, student enrollment — and state dollars tied to enrollment — could continue to fall.

Read the full report here:


Teacher Pay

Every Tennessee teacher will make at least $33,745 under new salary schedule

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Some teachers in 46 Tennessee districts will see a pay boost next year after the State Board of Education voted Wednesday to raise the minimum salary for educators across the state.

The unanimous vote raises the minimum pay from $32,445 to $33,745, or an increase of 4 percent. The minimum salary is the lowest that a district can pay its teachers, and usually applies to new educators.

The boost under the new schedule won’t affect most Tennessee districts, including the largest ones in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga — where teacher salaries already exceed the state minimum. (You can see the list of districts impacted here.)

The state’s largest teachers union lauded the increase, which will be funded under the state’s 2017-18 budget under Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” said Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college.”

Tennessee is one of 17 states that use salary schedules to dictate minimum teacher pay, according to a 2016 analysis by the Education Commission of the States. In that analysis, Tennessee ranked 10th out of 17 on starting pay.

The 4 percent raise is a step toward addressing a nationwide issue: the widening gap in teacher wages. On average, teachers earn just 77 percent of what other college graduates earn, according to a 2016 study from the Economic Policy Institute. Tennessee ranks 40th in that study, with its teachers earning 70 percent in comparison to other graduates.

View the Economic Policy Institute’s data in full: