comings and goings

Department of Education gets new top lawyer amid segregation and safety challenges

PHOTO: Ron Coleman
Howard Friedman
PHOTO: Courtesy Department of Education
Howard Friedman

When New York City’s education department responds to a lawsuit challenging its handling of school violence, there will be a new name on the legal papers.

Howard Friedman, who has worked for the city’s law department for nearly two decades, will become the Department of Education’s general counsel next month. Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced the appointment in a statement that heralded Friedman’s “dedication, passion, and innovative thinking.”

The top legal slot had been open since Courtenaye Jackson-Chase left for the Children’s Aid Society in February after a decade at the department. With her predecessor, Jackson-Chase tackled efforts to close the “rubber room” for teachers who were removed from the classroom after being accused of misconduct and to streamline disciplinary hearings for department employees. As those issues dropped from the department’s public priorities under the de Blasio administration, Jackson-Chase reviewed the department’s Respect for All anti-bullying policy.

Friedman arrives as the department faces a full slate of legal issues. They include how to allow schools to bend city rules to promote racial integration and to how to respond to the school safety lawsuit, which critics of the de Blasio administration filed this spring.

Here’s the city’s complete press release about Friedman’s appointment:

CHANCELLOR FARIÑA ANNOUNCES APPOINTMENT OF HOWARD FRIEDMAN AS GENERAL COUNSEL

NEW YORK – Chancellor Carmen Fariña today announced the appointment of Howard Friedman as General Counsel. In his new role, Friedman will serve as the chief legal advisor for the DOE, where he will focus on the development and implementation of new initiatives and the revision of existing education policy. Friedman will also provide counsel to the Chancellor on the legal aspects of policy and administrative matters.

Prior to joining the DOE, Friedman served as the Chief of the Contracts and Real Estate Division of the New York City Law Department, where he counseled City agencies and the Mayor’s Office on transactional matters and special projects. Friedman joined the Contracts and Real Estate Division in 1998, became Deputy Chief of the Division in 2004, and was promoted to Chief last year.

“Howard has demonstrated a remarkable commitment to serving our city and we are very excited to have someone with his talent and experience join our team,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “I know that Howard will continue to bring an extraordinary level of dedication, passion and innovative thinking to his new role serving our city’s 1.1 million students, families and school staff.”

“It is an honor to join the Department of Education and to be a part of the incredible work it’s doing on behalf of our city’s families,” said Howard Friedman. “I’ve had the privilege of serving the City of New York and its residents for the past 20 years, and I look forward to helping this department build on the progress it has made delivering a high-quality education to every student.”

“The qualities that make Howard eminently qualified to lead the legal division of the City’s largest operation are the qualities we will miss most at the Law Department – his incomparable knowledge of the law, his ability to solve practical problems, and his steadiness under pressure,” said Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter.

“From his time as a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, to his nearly two decades with the New York City Law Department, Howard has proven himself a tough and dedicated public servant,” said Ursulina Ramirez, Chief Operating Officer for the Department of Education. “We are very fortunate to have him join the department, where I know he will become a champion for our city’s public school students and families.”

Prior to joining the New York City Law Department, Friedman worked, among other things, as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society, where he first worked in the Criminal Appeals Bureau, and then in the Civil Division serving the Harlem neighborhood. He is a 1985 cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. Friedman will join the DOE on July 5.

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.”