first aid

Launching 2017 legislative session, Heastie signals support for major increase in school funding

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Speaker Carl Heastie on the Assembly floor.

In his opening speech to the New York State Assembly on Wednesday, Speaker Carl Heastie threw his support behind the release of long-sought funding designed to help the state’s neediest schools.

The Speaker said he wants to create a timetable to “fully” phase in what’s known as “foundation aid” — a funding stream created in large part to help high-needs schools. The funding, which was derailed by budget cuts during the recession, is a major source of school aid in New York City. It provides about 30 percent of state’s allocation to the city, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

“The Assembly Majority believes that there is no investment worth more than education,” Heastie said in one of his first remarks to the Assembly.

Heastie’s strong support for school funding might help alleviate concerns that K-12 education could take a backseat to higher education in this year’s legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that one of his major 2017 initiatives will be providing free tuition at state colleges to families making less than $125,000 per year.

Right after Cuomo’s announcement, the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization that pushes for school funding, released a statement pressing the governor to consider “all public education funding” in this year’s budget

“Without a commitment to first better prepare students for college through adequate K-12 funding from the state, the governor’s plan will not make the impact intended,” it stated.

Though Heastie’s support is good news for advocates, his wishes are not always fully reflected in the final budget. In his opening speech last year, the speaker called for the “highest funding level possible” for New York state education and the Assembly’s budget included a $2.1 billion increase in education spending. When the dust settled, however, the legislature increased education spending by about $1.3 billion.

Still, Heastie’s comment puts him in line with the state’s policymaking body, which called for a three-year phase-in of the foundation aid in December. At the time Regent James Tallon, who chairs the Regents state aid subcommittee, called the proposal “aggressive,” but also argued it was the right time to honor the state’s pledge to boost student funding.

In his speech, Heastie also praised the state’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which aims to help boys and young men of color achieve their educational potential; said he wants to build on last year’s investment in community schools; and expressed support for Cuomo’s tuition-free college plan.

“I am encouraged that the governor is making this a priority,” Heastie said about the proposal. “We look forward to working with him and the Senate to help make this a reality.”

taking a stand

Colorado education leaders sign petition asking Washington officials to protect undocumented youth

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki
DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg reads with a student at an event called Power Lunch.

Superintendents from Colorado’s two largest school districts have signed a petition asking President Trump and Congress to extend temporary protections for young undocumented immigrants — some of them teachers.

Denver’s Tom Boasberg and Jefferson County’s Dan McMinimee joined more than 1,000 educators from across the country in signing the petition drafted by the nonprofit education advocacy group Stand for Children.

The petition asks that officials keep alive former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and help pass the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act, first introduced in Congress in 2001, would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

The petition reads in part:

Out of concern for children and the strength of our nation, we respectfully call on officials at the highest levels of power to address this issue in an urgent way. Students must be able to attend school and graduate with a clear path toward a productive future, and teachers who were brought here as children must be able to continue to strengthen our schools and our nation.

Many in the education community raised concern after Trump was elected in November. Trump ran on a promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and end Obama’s deferment program. On Thursday, some of Colorado’s Latino lawmakers sent a letter to Trump asking him to back away from that promise.

Other education leaders in Colorado who signed the petition:

  • Savinay Chandrasekhar, executive director of Minds Matter of Denver, which provides tutoring and other support for low-income youth.
  • Kimberlee Sia, executive director of KIPP Colorado Schools, part of a national charter school network.
  • Lauren Trent, director of education partnerships of CareerWise Colorado, which is developing an apprenticeship program for Colorado youth set to debut this fall.
  • Michael Clough, superintendent of Sheridan School District, southwest of Denver.
  • Patricia Hanrahan, deputy superintendent of Englewood Schools.

Numerous Denver Public Schools teachers also signed the petition.

petition drive

School chiefs in Memphis, Nashville join education leaders urging protection of ‘Dreamers’ under Trump

The superintendents of Tennessee’s two largest school districts are among 1,500 education leaders to sign a petition asking for continued protection from deportation for “Dreamers,” young people brought to the U.S. as children.

Dorsey Hopson

Dorsey Hopson of Shelby County Schools and Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools are among chiefs of at least 15 urban districts to sign the letter. Also joining the campaign are at least 30 educators from mostly Memphis and Nashville, as well as leaders from charter and nonprofit organizations and teacher’s unions from across the nation.

The petition was released this week before Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday as the nation’s 45th president. During his presidential campaign, Trump vowed to do away with the federal policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Policy, or DACA, as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration. However, he recently told Time magazine that he would “work something out” for people known as “Dreamers,” so named for the failed DREAM Act legislation that would provide a path toward citizenship.

The petition calls DACA “crucially important to public education across the country” and also urges passage of the DREAM Act. The drive was organized by Stand for Children, a nonprofit group that advocates for education equity in 11 states, including Tennessee.

Cardell Orrin, director of Stand for Children in Memphis, said the signatures show that “leaders in Nashville and Memphis care about what’s happening with our kids and want to see the dream continue for Dreamers.”

He added that school leaders are mobilized to work together in behalf of students if Trump attempts to do away with DACA.

“There may not be as many undocumented students here as in some of the others states (such as) Texas or Arizona. But this could still have great impact on kids in Tennessee,” Orrin said.

Among other Tennesseans signing the petition as of Friday were:

  • Marcus Robinson chief executive officer, Memphis Education Fund
  • Maya Bugg, chief executive officer, Tennessee Charter School Center
  • Brian Gilson, chief people officer, Achievement Schools, Memphis
  • Sonji Branch, affiliate director, Communities in Schools of Tennessee
  • Sylvia Flowers, executive director of educator talent, Tennessee Department of Education
  • Ginnae Harley, federal programs director, Knox County Schools

Read what Trump’s inauguration means for one undocumented Nashville student-turned-teacher.