Tough talk

New York education experts call Trump’s proposed budget cuts ‘irresponsible’ and ‘devastating’

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint, unveiled Thursday, drew instant ire from education experts in New York state.

The proposal calls for slashing $9 billion from the U.S. Department of Education, cutting support for teachers’ professional development, after-school and summer programs, and programs designed to help students prepare for college. It would also eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service, the $1 billion-a-year agency that finances programs run by AmeriCorps serving more than 11,000 schools.

The New York education world had this to say:

New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

President Trump’s proposed drastic cut to the U.S. Department of Education’s budget is an irresponsible disregard for vital education programs and would be devastating to New York’s children. The very programs he proposes to cut play a critical role in fostering equity and eliminating the education gap that exists across our nation. Further, eliminating federal funding for library, art, humanities and public broadcasting programs would decimate essential community centers and nonprofit organizations.

The State Education Department receives $3.6 billion in federal funding each year, the vast majority of which is passed on to local school districts. Such substantial, wholesale cuts imperil important local programs. Eliminating widespread funding for after-school programs, community learning centers, teacher preparation, work study and cultural programs is a disservice to New York’s children.

As the state’s education leaders, we will work with our federal representatives to fight for the funding we need to support our students so they can succeed in life. We encourage all of our educational partners to be strong advocates for New York’s kids, and students nationally, and tell Washington, these cuts to vital educational programs are not acceptable.

John King, former U.S. education secretary and New York state education commissioner; current CEO and president of the Education Trust

On the campaign trail and during his first two months in office, President Trump stressed the importance of “getting Americans back to work” and investing in America. Despite this rhetoric, the administration’s “skinny” budget released today would do the opposite.

Cuts to financial aid programs, including draconian cuts to the Pell Grant program, abandoning teacher support and development programs, and an ill-advised (and previously rejected) scheme to divert resources from our highest need schools would move our country backward. They would hurt low-income students trying to pay for college and prepare themselves for the workforce, educators seeking to improve their skills to better serve our nation’s young people, and the very schools responsible for educating our nation’s most vulnerable students.

If this proposal were enacted, all students, particularly students of color and low-income students, throughout the entire continuum of our education system would suffer, as would the nation’s businesses who desperately need a skilled workforce to be successful.

We call on Congress to reject this harmful proposal outright and to truly invest in America’s future by supporting what we know will move our nation forward: ensuring that there are equitable opportunities for all children to learn, that students leave high school prepared for college and career, that school districts and teachers get the resources they need to improve, and that all young people, especially those from low-income families, are supported to go to college and earn a degree. The Education Trust stands ready to assist in that effort.

Evan Stone, co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence, a teacher advocacy group

The U.S. Department of Education has played a critical role for decades in ensuring that our most vulnerable students — students from low-income families, students of color, students with special needs and English learners — have greater educational opportunity.

It is not enough to say that we value every student in our country; our national budget must reflect these values, so that these proclamations are more than platitudes – they are promises. When we invest in after-school programs, student supports, and increasing college access, we are not wasting our dollars, but investing in our students’ futures and the future of our country. We call on President Trump and Members of Congress to reconsider the many harmful cuts laid out in this budget proposal that will jeopardize students’ success and the long-term economic health of our nation.

Congress created Title I funds as part of the War on Poverty in 1965 to support schools serving significant populations of low-income students. Sending dollars away from schools with the highest concentrations of poverty undermines the very purpose for which Title I was created.

Jasmine Gripper, legislative director, Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy group

Trump’s proposed cuts to federal education funding are just the first step in his and Betsy DeVos’s ideological crusade to bring down our public education system. Here in New York, over 90 percent of children attend traditional public schools, and this budget makes clear that they are facing an unprecedented threat from the federal government.

Blocking this plan will require the Republican members in New York’s Congressional delegation to reject this proposal — the well-being of our most vulnerable children is in their hands. It is also essential, in light of Trump’s proposal, that our representatives in the state legislature do the right thing and adequately fund our schools in the forthcoming budget. Now is the moment for our State Senate Republicans to differentiate themselves from the Trump administration’s agenda, and stand up to protect our public schools.

talking it out

At NAACP hearing on charter school moratorium, foes and fans find common ground

PHOTO: Cassi Feldman
Nyla Jenkins, a first-grader at KIPP STAR Harlem College Prep Charter School

When the NAACP called for a moratorium on charter schools last fall, the group’s president and CEO Cornell Brooks said the group wanted a “reasoned pause,” not a “doomsday destruction” of charters.

Still, it ignited a firestorm among charter school supporters and sparked a series of hearings nationwide, the last of which was held Thursday in New York City. But rather than a heated debate, the panelists and public speakers took pains to find common ground.

“We cannot have a situation where schools are pitted against each other,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the packed auditorium at Harlem Hospital Center.

Many panelists said the problem wasn’t school choice, but the fact that too many parents felt compelled to seek alternatives to struggling district schools.

“If you go into communities where education is working, you don’t see people scrambling around, trying to figure out what school to put their child in,” said Lester Young, a member of the state Board of Regents. “We have communities in New York City right now where parents say there is not one middle school I can place my child in. Now, that’s the issue.”

Still, many of the speakers also acknowledged problems with charter schools, particularly in states where the laws governing them are more lax than they are in New York.

“We want to make sure that those schools are going to accept students that have special needs,” said Rebecca Pringle, vice president of the National Education Association. “We want to make sure that we do not create separate systems that are unequal.”

The charter school advocates on the panel seemed to agree that some charters weren’t working. They were quick to denounce for-profit charters, for instance. “For-profit operators have no business in education,” said Katie Duffy, CEO of Democracy Prep Charter School. Our children “are not assets and liabilities and they shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Rafiq Kalam id-Din II, who founded a charter school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, spoke about the need for more schools like his, founded and staffed by black and Hispanic community members. Without naming names, he called out charter schools that believe “if you don’t sit a certain way, you can’t learn” or are using suspension as a “first response” rather than a last resort.

“Criminalizing the behavior of our children — there should be a moratorium on that,” he said.

But it was Nyla Jenkins, 7, a first-grader at KIPP STAR Harlem College Prep Charter School, who drew the most applause of the night when she took the microphone and declared herself a junior lifetime member of the NAACP. “Let’s find a solution for all of us,” she said.

Building Better Schools

IPS broke its own rules to work with a for-profit charter operator. Now it’s having second thoughts.

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Donnan Middle School was taken over by the state and handed off to be run by Charter Schools USA in 2012. The school now includes an elementary school in partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools.

An unusual partnership between a for-profit charter operator and Indianapolis Public Schools could be on the rocks.

That’s because during its first year of operation, Emma Donnan Elementary School students had some of the lowest test scores in the district and did not make significant gains from the prior year — landing it on the shortlist for district intervention.

If scores are not good this year or in 2018, the district might terminate its contract with Charter Schools USA to operate Donnan, according to Superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

“They struggled in last year’s performance,” he said. “They did not perform at our standard.”

Florida-based CSUSA began managing three Indianapolis schools, including Emma Donnan Middle School, after the schools were taken over by the Indiana State Board of Education six years ago. In 2015, they opened Donnan Elementary as an IPS innovation school in the same building as the middle school. The district is responsible for the school’s — so far low — test scores, but the staff are employed by the charter operator, which handles daily operations.

IPS suspended a policy against working with for-profit operators when it agreed to work with CSUSA to launch Donnan Elementary. The move was intended to give the district more involvement in a building that otherwise would be state-controlled and give CSUSA a chance to work with students earlier. Middle schoolers at Donnan often enroll far behind grade level.

Eric Lewis, a senior official with CSUSA, said the organization is “thrilled to be in partnership” with IPS, and he is not concerned about pressure from the district to improve test scores because “we always intend to improve.”

CSUSA operates 77 schools across the country, many of which also have struggled academically. In the six years since Indiana handed management of three IPS schools over to the charter-manager, those schools have not shown significant improvement.

In recent years, CSUSA has appeared poised to expand in Indiana, but earlier this week the Indiana Charter School Board canceled charters for two schools that were expected to be managed by CSUSA because the company had stopped communicating about its plans.

IPS board members have been skeptical of Donnan Elementary’s progress in the past, but they were relatively quiet during a presentation from CSUSA at their meeting Thursday. (Innovation schools must present their progress to their board twice a year.)

Board member Diane Arnold said the report, which included information on enrollment and scores on tests used to track student progress throughout the year, showed more improvement than the last report school leaders presented to the board.

She is cautiously optimistic Donnan will improve with support.

“We kind of pushed the envelope to give them the elementary school,” she said. “My expectation is we should see results. … And I am hopeful.”

But it’s unclear what help the school will get from the district to improve test scores. Lewis said he did not “have any sense” of what resources the district could provide the school through its new intervention process, but “we look forward to partnering with them.”

Board president Mary Ann Sullivan said she was concerned that Donnan appeared on the list of low-performing schools, and she is relying on the staff overseeing innovation schools to track its progress.

“When we have partners … their purpose is to improve student achievement, and (if) that doesn’t happen, then yes, we will absolutely intervene in those schools,” she said. “We are going to be looking for accountability.”