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As state budget debate rages on, Board of Regents set to push back on Success Academy renewals

Lawmakers in New York’s Capitol have been consumed with a heated fight over the budget, which will determine the future of education spending, fate of charter schools and whether the state will pick up students’ tab for college tuition.

The drama continued into Sunday night, when Governor Andrew Cuomo, around midnight, said he would introduce an “extender” of the current budget to keep the government functioning until May 31 — and that legislative leaders have agreed to approve the measure by Monday afternoon.

But across the street at the State Education Department building, policymakers are also meeting, though the agenda is likely to spark fewer fireworks.

The Board of Regents appears poised to send a series of Success Academy charter school renewals back to their authorizer with comments, rather than approve them, saying that SUNY jumped the gun and has proposed renewing them too early.

It would be a largely symbolic gesture, since the Regents do not have final say over the controversial charter network, according to SUNY officials, but they say the move is a break from precedent.

The Regents will also talk about creating standards for the arts — which has some bearing on the Regents’ goal of revamping graduation requirements. And they will discuss how to reshape education policy under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Here’s more on the meeting items:

Success Academy

The Board of Regents plans to vote on whether to kick 10 proposed Success Academy charter school renewals back to SUNY, saying they were renewed too early.

Success Academy, New York City’s largest charter school network, is authorized by SUNY, but the Regents have the power to suggest changes and send the renewals back to SUNY for further consideration.

State officials say SUNY is giving Success schools full-term renewals, even though they are not technically up for renewal until either 2018 or 2020. The Regents materials indicate this is a departure from normal practice. Officials argued that it’s important to renew charters at the appropriate date, in order to review the most recent data in areas including student enrollment.

SUNY officials said it is normal practice for SUNY to give early renewals in some cases. Susie Miller Carello, executive director of the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, said the institute has done so several times in the past. But the last time the Regents sent any decision back to SUNY with comments was seven years ago, she said.

The State Education Department sees the renewal situation differently. “According to our records, there is no precedence for a charter to be submitted to the Board of Regents other than in the last academic year of the charter, which we believe is good practice and is in line with the intent of the law,” wrote a spokesperson via email.

In the end, SUNY will make the final decision, so tomorrow’s vote wouldn’t derail the renewals, said Joseph Belluck, the charter school committee chair on the SUNY board of trustees. He said he does not see any reason the board would modify its original request, but said he disagrees with state officials’ interpretation.

“I am extremely troubled by the Regents rejection of these schools,” Belluck said. “It seems to me that there isn’t a single substantive basis for the rejection.”

Several Regents and Chancellor Betty Rosa have raised concerns about charter schools in the past — specifically that they do not always enroll enough high-needs students. Success Academy is at the epicenter of this debate. The networks’ schools have produced very high test scores, but critics have long held they do so by kicking out students who are hardest to serve.

Arts standards

The Regents will vote to adopt a “strategic plan for the arts,” which includes a vow to revise arts education standards, discussions about how to use the arts as an alternative graduation pathway, and a plan to improve mentorship and research opportunities. Policymakers will also vote to adopt a timeline for the new arts standards, which, if all goes as scheduled, would be fully implemented in the 2018-19 school year.

ESSA

On Tuesday, the Regents will recap their March meeting, where they had a day-long retreat to discuss how the state will reshape education policy under the Every Student Succeeds Act. There are no items posted for this meeting yet, but the material says they will “provide direction to department staff.”

Computer science teachers

The Regents will hear a presentation about establishing a computer science teaching certificate. That may be particularly consequential for New York City schools, since Mayor Bill de Blasio has made providing computer science education in every school a major priority. One of the biggest hurdles to expanding computer science education is finding qualified teachers.

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”

student says

Here’s what New York City students told top state officials about school segregation

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Students discussed attending racially isolated schools at the Board of Regents meeting.

New York state’s top policymakers are wading into a heated debate about how to integrate the state’s schools. But before they pick a course of action, they wanted to hear from their main constituents: students.

At last week’s Board of Regents meeting, policymakers invited students from Epic Theatre Ensemble, who performed a short play, and from IntegrateNYC4Me, a youth activist group, to explain what it’s like to attend racially isolated schools. New York’s drive to integrate schools is, in part, a response to a widely reported study that named the state’s schools — including those in New York City — as the most segregated in the country.

The Board of Regents has expressed interest in using the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to address this issue and released a draft diversity statement in June.

Here’s what graduating seniors told the Board about what it’s like to attend school in a segregated school system. These stories have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

“I have never, ever had a white classmate.”

Throughout my years of schooling and going to school, I have never, ever had a white classmate. It’s something that now that I’m getting ready to go to college, it’s something to really think about, and I don’t think that we’re moving in the right direction. I went to the accepted student day at my college — I’m going to SUNY Purchase. I went there, and I’m being introduced into this whole new world that I never was exposed to.

It’s really a problem. I know I’m not the only one because I have family members and I spoke to some of my brothers and I’m like, “I have never encountered a white classmate in my whole life.” Just to show you how important [it is] to integrate the schools. Just so future kids don’t have to deal with that.

It wasn’t in my power for me to be able to have different classmates. I think in our school, we had one Asian girl, freshman year. She was there for literally like two days and she left so I have been limited in my school years to just African-Americans and Latinos.

So now that I’m getting ready to step out there, this is something I’ve never had to deal with. So the issue is something that’s really deep and near to my heart and now that I’m going to college I have to, you know, adapt. I’m sure it’s a whole different ball game.

— Dantae Duwhite, 18, attended the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts, going to SUNY Purchase in the fall

***

“I saw how much of a community that school had.”

I first became involved in IntegrateNYC4me my junior year when we were having a school exchange between my school in Brooklyn [Leon M. Goldstein] and Bronx Academy of Letters.

When I went into the [school] exchange, I was really excited to see how different the other school would be. But when I got there, I saw how much of a community that school had and personally, I didn’t feel that in my school. My school is majority white and it’s just very segregated within the school, so [I liked] coming into [a different] school and seeing how much community they had and how friendly they are. They just say hi to each other in the hallways and everybody knows each other and even us. We went in and we’re like strangers and they were so welcoming to us and I know they didn’t have the same experience at our school. That really interested me and that’s how I got into the work.

If it weren’t so segregated, it could be so easy for all of us to have a welcoming community like the Bronx Letters students did.

— Julisa Perez, 18, attended Leon M. Goldstein, a screened high school in Brooklyn and will attend Brooklyn college in the fall

***

“They’re expected to take the same Regents, yet they’re not given the same lab equipment.” 

I also went on the exchange my junior and senior year. The first time I did it was my junior year and when I went to Bronx Letters, the first thing I noticed was how resources were allocated unfairly between our schools.

Because, at my school, we have three lab rooms:, a science lab, a chemistry lab and a physics lab. And at Bronx Letters, they never even had a lab room, they just had lab equipment. And I think it’s important to see that all New York City students are expected to meet the same state requirements. They’re expected to take the same Regents, yet they’re not given the same lab equipment and they’re not given the same resources. So I think it’s unfair to expect the same of students when they’re not given equitable resources. That is what I took away from it.

— Aneth Naranjo, 18, attended Leon M. Goldstein, will attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the fall