top honors

Success Academy named finalist for prestigious national charter school award

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Eva Moskowitz of New York's Success Academy

New York City-based Success Academy is one of three contenders for a prize recognizing the “best-performing large charter school systems in the country.”

Finalists for the $250,000 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools were announced Monday by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The annual prize honors large charter school networks that have proven adept at serving low-income students and students of color.

Success Academy is the city’s biggest charter school network, with 41 schools serving 14,000 students, 76 percent of whom are low-income. Last year, all of its elementary and middle schools were in the top 10 percent of schools in the state for academic performance in English, math and science, according to the announcement.

In a statement, Success Academy spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore said the recognition comes at an auspicious time. “We are hiring hundreds of teachers and school staff — to open more schools and meet parent demand — thus more people will see Success as a force for change and innovation, and a great place to work,” she wrote.

But Success has also been the subject of harsh criticism, most notably for a “Got to Go” list of unwanted students at one school, exposed in 2015, and for leaning too heavily on strict rules and student suspensions. Chalkbeat spoke with Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz in March about some of those critiques and about her support for education secretary Betsy DeVos.

Previous winners of the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools include IDEA Public Schools in 2016, Noble Network of Charter Schools in 2015, KIPP Schools in 2014 and Uncommon Schools in 2013.

This year’s winner, chosen by a panel of education experts, will be announced June 12 at the National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C. The other finalists are DSST Public Schools in Denver and Harmony Public Schools in Texas.

future funding

Trump’s education budget could be bad news for New York City’s ‘community schools’ expansion

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

The Trump administration has proposed eliminating the sole source of funding for New York City’s dramatic expansion of its community schools program, according to budget documents released Tuesday.

Less than two weeks ago, city officials announced its community schools program would expand to 69 new schools this fall, financed entirely by $25.5 million per year of funding earmarked for 21st Century Community Learning Centers — a $1.2 billion federal program which Trump is again proposing to eliminate.

The community schools program is a central feature of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s strategy for high-need schools — a model he called a “game-changer” earlier this month. It is designed to help schools address the physical health and emotional issues that can impede student learning, in part by pairing them with nonprofit organizations that offer a range of services, such as mental health counseling, vision screenings, or dental checkups.

City officials downplayed the threat of the cuts, noting the Republican-controlled congress increased funding for the program in a recent spending agreement and that similar funding cuts have been threatened in the past.

“This program has bipartisan support and has fought back the threat of cuts for over a decade,” a city education official wrote in an email.

Still, some nonprofit providers are nervous this time will be different.

“I’m not confident that the funding will continue given the federal political climate,” said Jeremy Kaplan, director of community education at Phipps Neighborhoods, an organization that will offer services in three of the city’s new community schools this fall. Even though the first year of funding is guaranteed, he said, the future of the program is unclear.

“It’s not clear to [community-based] providers what the outlook would be after year one.”

City officials did not respond to a question about whether they have contingency plans to ensure the 69 new community schools would not lose the additional support, equivalent to roughly $350,000 per school each year.

“Community schools are an essential part of Equity and Excellence and we will do everything on our power to ensure continuation of funding,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in an email.

New York state receives over $88 million in 21st Century funding, which it distributes to local school districts. State education officials did not immediately respond to questions about how they would react if the funding is ultimately cut.

“President Trump’s proposed budget includes a sweeping and irresponsible slashing of the U.S. Department of Education’s budget,” state officials wrote in a press release. “If these proposed cuts become reality, gaps and inequity in education will grow.”

vying for vouchers

On Betsy DeVos’s budget wish list: $250M to ‘build the evidence base’ for vouchers

PHOTO: Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Recent research about private-school voucher programs has been grim: In Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Louisiana, and Ohio, students did worse on tests after they received the vouchers.

Now, the Trump administration is looking for new test cases.

Their budget proposal, released Tuesday, asks for $250 million to fund a competition for school districts looking to expand school voucher programs. Those districts could apply for funding to pay private school tuition for students from poor families, then evaluate those programs “to build the evidence base around private school choice,” according to the budget documents.

It’s very unlikely that the budget will make it through Congress in its current form. But the funding boost aimed at justifying private-school choice programs is one way U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is delivering on years of advocacy for those programs. On Monday, she promised the Trump administration would soon lay out the “most ambitious expansion of school choice in our nation’s history.”

DeVos and other say vouchers are critical for helping low-income students succeed and also help students in public schools, whose schools improve thanks to competitive pressure. Private school choice programs have also come under criticism for requiring students with disabilities to waive their rights under IDEA and for allowing private schools to discriminate against LGBT students.

Bill Cordes, the education department’s K-12 budget director, told leaders of education groups Tuesday that the “sensitive” issues around the divide between church and state and civil rights protections for participating students would be addressed as the program is rolled out.