push back

Campaign for Fiscal Equity will push taxes, consult its lawyers

A point I didn’t make strongly enough about Governor Paterson’s proposed budget is that the plan would delay, by four years, the cash infusion that was supposed to come as the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. The terms of the settlement were that both the state and city agreed to pour an extra $5.4 billion into the city schools over four years.

Now that budget proposals are not only not following up on those increases but also cutting away from what was given last year, the group that filed the lawsuit in the first place — the Campaign for Fiscal Equity — is pushing back. The group will be lobbying the legislature hard to say no to Paterson’s budget. Their better idea for how to tackle the state’s giant deficit: tax the affluent, the proposal the Working Families Party has floated.

Helaine Doran, the campaign’s deputy director, said officials are also consulting with their lawyers. “We have no process of like, ‘Oh yes, we’re going back to court immediately,'” she said on the phone this afternoon. “You have to look at the numbers and figure it out. We have geniuses helping us.”

CFE will be joined by the teachers union in lobbying the legislature to make fewer cuts to the city school system. Randi Weingarten called the proposals “chilling” in a statement yesterday that estimated the overall impact to city schools — state and city cuts combined — at $1 billion.

Weingarten’s full response, plus a long press release from CFE and other education advocates who are joining them in fighting the budget cuts, are below.

Weingarten’s statement:

We know that the situation is daunting and appreciate Governor Paterson’s predicament. We are relieved that his budget acknowledges the need for new revenues, not just cuts. But while we understand that the struggling economy prevents us from moving forward as planned with monies won for students in the CFE lawsuit, New York State cannot move backward by making devastating cuts to schools that will affect the classroom. Kids did not create this crisis, and they should not bear the burden of it. Kids don’t get a second chance, and therefore we cannot turn back the clock.

We will work with the Governor and the Legislature in a productive way, championing a tripartite solution that includes a federal stimulus program as well as more progressive ways of revenue raising. We recognize some cuts are inevitable, but the magnitude of what is currently proposed is chilling. Between the loss of $645 million in expected school aid increases and more than $200 million in cuts, the New York City schools will receive $850 million less than promised. To make matters worse, the school system will have $660 million less than it would need to just maintain the present level of services. When we factor in proposed city cuts, we are looking at more than $1 billion in cutbacks, the most since the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s.

We will also fight hard on other issues, such as maintaining economic security and the professional tools we need like the teacher centers, which are a key professional development tool vital to the districts that saw a large growth in test scores. If we really want to help kids and eliminate the achievement gap, it would be a mistake to eliminate programs that have successful track records.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity and other groups’ statement, titled “Educating Our Children vs. Protecting the Wealthy”:

(Albany, NY) The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), Citizen Action of New York (CANY), the New York Immigration Coalition, New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, Education Voters and Advocates for Children of New York called Governor Paterson’s 2009 executive budget proposal unfair and unreasonable. The Governor’s budget cuts committed education funding by more than $2.5 billion.  The Governor’s budget would deliver $698 million less in funding next school year than in the current year, but as the Governor’s own budget asserts the actual cut in committed school funding that will be used to close the state’s deficit is $2.5 billion.  (2009-10 Executive Budget Briefing Book page 50).

The groups are calling for a balanced approach to closing the budget with options that include upwards of $5 billion in new revenue by increasing taxes on New Yorkers who earn at least $250,000 annually. The school aid cuts contained in the Governor’s proposal undermine the state’s constitutional obligation to substantially increase funding in under-funded and high needs school districts as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. The $2.5 billion proposed reduction in committed funding represents the largest proposed school aid cut in the history of the state.

“The governor has shifted the unbearable burden of closing the budget gap onto the shoulders of school children while sparing the wealthiest New Yorkers. Asking school children to sacrifice $2.5 billion in school funding to pay for the state’s deficit problems while requiring nothing from New York’s highest income earners is irresponsible,” said, Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

“Governor Paterson’s proposed education budget gets a failing grade.  By cutting $2.5 billion from committed funding, and extending the CFE phase-in from four to eight years, he is turning back the clock on the state’s legislated obligation to keep the CFE promise.  By refusing to propose progressive across the board revenue options, New York’s 15 year education budget deficit will now grow to 21 years, and the price will be paid by our neediest students.  Simply put, the Governor is using bad arithmetic.  The future of our neediest students and their constitutional rights must not be subtracted from our state’s budget,” said Geri D. Palast, Executive Director, Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

A poll released this week by the Working Families Party shows that 75% of New Yorkers oppose cuts to school aid and 75% support income tax hikes on those earning over $200,000.  A second poll released by the Citizens Committee for Children of New York found that 77% of New Yorkers favored income tax hikes on those making over $250,000 as opposed to the property tax hikes that will result from cuts in state school aid.

“Cuts in school aid will not only harm children, they will also damage our state’s fragile economy. Our children’s future and our State’s economic future both require that we balance the budget by asking the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay their fair share, rather than cutting school aid.  After years of under funding and delays, the state finally committed to reducing class size, investing in teacher quality, and expanding reading, math, after school, pre-school and English language learner programs.  These budget cuts would undo these advancements and be a huge setback for students,” said Karen Scharff, Citizen Action of New York Executive Director.

The Governor’s budget proposal contains provisions to preserve the Contract for Excellence, a system of school district accountability enacted in 2007 that is tied to the new funding invested.  While there is a slight reduction in the amount that is covered by individual school district Contracts for Excellence, the vast majority of funding that is currently invested in Contract programs will continue to be covered by the Contracts as a result of protections proposed by the Governor.

“Preserving the Contract for Excellence as the Governor has proposed is essential to ensuring that the vast majority funding invested in school reforms the past two years is not wasted,” said Easton.  “Without legislative changes to protect the Contracts for Excellence, the money invested these past two years in smaller classes and educational reforms would be subject to no accountability.”

“The Contract for Excellence, the only accountability tool that ensures that the CFE dollars are invested in the neediest students in strategies that work–teacher quality, smaller classes, English Language Learner programs, middle and high school reform, and full day pre-k–must be protected,” said Palast. “Legislative changes similar to those proposed by the Governor are essential to continue the investments from the first two years, and to ensure that any new investments now and in future years are properly allocated. What’s more, the Contracts are the only means for tracking the dollars, determining the impact on student achievement, and whether, at the end of the day, every public school child receives their constitutionally protected sound basic education. ”

“Here in Albany we’ve just begun to move forward with continued advancements in teacher quality initiatives and extended day programs. There are still improvements that need to be made and these cuts will stifle our progress and immediately affect the quality of education our students are receiving. We cannot balance our budget on the backs of our children,” said Ivette Alfonso, Capital District AQE board member.

“The law has already spoken when it comes to providing funding for a quality education for our kids.  With the unprecedented win of the CFE lawsuit, and the further monetary award that provides New York City school kids with a chance for a quality education, it is perfectly clear that our governor intends to break the law, and rob our kids of their opportunity to get a quality education. The answer is not to rob our kids, but to make the wealthiest NYer’s give their fair share to balance the budget,” Ocynthia Williams, Parent Leader with the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice.

“The Governor is attempting to balance the budget by over burdening hard working families and cutting school aid and other critical services while not asking New York’s highest income earners to pay their fair share.  We can and must do better to create a future that prepares our children for success in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” said Glynda Carr, Education Voters Executive Director.

“We’re particularly concerned about the most at-risk kids in the system, such as students with disabilities, English language learners, or students in foster care.  These are the kids who tend to be hurt first when budgets start contracting,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New York.

“These cuts will be devastating for our most at-risk students.  Even as immigrant and English-language-learner graduation rates continue to plummet, the Governor chose to slash education funding, making a desperate situation even worse,” said Jose Davila, director of state government affairs with the New York Immigration Coalition.

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The following is an excerpt from the 2009-10 Executive Budget Briefing Book:

“Overall, the Executive Budget provides $20.7 billion for School Aid in 2009-10, a decrease of $698 million or 3.3 percent from 2008-09.  Even after this reduction, School Aid will have increased $6.2 billion or 42 percent compared to 2003-04.  Without these actions, total 2009-10 School Aid funding was projected to total $23.2 billion, $2.5 billion higher than the Executive Budget proposal.”

Top 10

From forest preschools to a secret apology, here are Chalkbeat Colorado’s must-read stories of 2018

PHOTO: Ann Schimke/Chalkbeat
Megan Patterson works with children to make a dam in a creek during a recent "forest school" class.

We spend a lot of time at Chalkbeat chasing the news to keep our readers informed about controversial policy changes, fast-moving debates, and late-breaking decisions.

But we also relish the opportunity to dig deep into issues affecting students and families, shine light on innovative ideas, and hear from dedicated educators making a difference. With that in mind, we’ve gathered 10 of our best stories from 2018.

These stories don’t necessarily chronicle the biggest education issues of 2018, from teacher walkouts to unprecedented state interventions. But they are stories we think are important and insightful, and that we enjoyed reporting and writing. We hope you enjoy reading them.

No walls: Forest preschools let kids run free, but can they change to reach diverse families?

One day this past summer, about a dozen children frolicked by a Jefferson County creek — making pretend tea in small metal buckets, and building dams with sticks and mud.

They were students at Worldmind Nature Immersion School, where children spend all their time outside. So-called forest preschools like Worldmind are beloved by many families but face significant regulatory and logistical barriers in expanding their footprint nationwide. Here in Colorado, a pilot program could lead a new kind of child care license designed for them.

And being licensed could help the schools confront another problem: a lack of diversity among their students. Read more.

Colorado was never ranked 46th for teacher pay. Does this change the debate?

It was an oft-cited statistic: that Colorado, despite its booming economy, ranked 46th in the nation for teacher pay. The eye-popping number found its way onto social media posts and signs at massive teacher rallies last spring. News outlets latched on to it, too.

But it was wrong. Colorado was actually ranked 30th in the nation.

Our story breaks down how the mistake happened (hint: a new data system, an unrevised report) — and how groups with different agendas seized on the snafu to score points. Read more.

This is the letter of apology that Adams 14 leaders never sent

The Adams 14 district in Commerce City is arguably the most troubled and low-performing in Colorado. Just last month, state officials directed Adams 14 to hire an external manager to oversee the district’s operations for at least the next four years.

Back in September, Adams 14 officials considered taking a rare step: saying sorry to the community. But an apology letter was never signed nor sent out.

Chalkbeat obtained a copy of the letter, which makes mention of “various and conflicting priorities, coupled with constant turnover and organizational disarray.” Read more.

Rising test scores and dwindling trust: Denver’s Tom Boasberg leaves a complicated legacy

Colorado’s largest school district experienced a big change this year when longtime leader Tom Boasberg announced he would step down after nearly 10 years in Denver Public Schools.

Because of his school improvement strategies — some of which were controversial and heightened tensions with the community — the district that the new superintendent, Susana Cordova, will inherit in January is vastly different than it was a decade ago.

One tangible difference: Schools that once served as anchors of the community but struggled academically have been closed or replaced. That disappearance was on display on one of Boasberg’s last days, when he held his cell phone close to his mouth and enunciated each word so his GPS would understand his direction: “Montbello High School.” Read more.

Parents in one Aurora high school are visiting classrooms and giving teachers feedback

Like many schools in Colorado, Aurora’s Rangeview High School has a test score gap between white and black students. But the assistant principal there came up with a unique way to try to address it: by inviting black parents to visit classrooms and observe how students are — or are not — engaging with the teacher’s lesson, and then provide suggestions for improvement.

“We give true and honest feedback,” said one parent involved, “if they looked or appeared comfortable, how they interacted with the environment, the temperature of the room.”

Although the assistant principal considers the African American Parent Committee an experiment, she said it’s generating uncomfortable but necessary conversations. Read more.

How education reform became a wedge issue among Colorado Democrats this election year

For years, more moderate Democrats, often working in unison with like-minded Republicans, championed education reform efforts ranging from school choice to holding educators accountable for student performance.

But partly because of backlash against President Donald Trump and his education secretary, those strategies no longer fly with many Democrats — especially left-leaning Democrats who see them as undercutting public education and devaluing the work of teachers.

That sentiment was palpable in Colorado’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, and could shape the next legislative session, which starts in January. “Education is the issue that really stands to divide the left in a very substantial way,” one observer said. Read more.

How a Colorado school district turned things around at 10,000 feet above sea level

School improvement efforts look a little different high in the Rocky Mountains. While many of the strategies used by the 1,000-student Lake County school district are familiar to urban settings, they’ve been retrofitted to meet the needs of a district that’s 100 miles west of Denver.

For example, instead of firing teachers and principals who weren’t accelerating student learning fast enough, the district adopted a new curriculum and gave its teachers lots of training.

“The belief that the people are the problem is wrong,” the superintendent said. “Our teachers are professionals, and we believe in them. We’re proving that there is a framework or a pathway for rural schools to improve that’s about building capacity within your own community.” Read more.

7 things to know about how Colorado schools punish their youngest students

After state lawmakers rejected a bill to limit the use of suspensions in the earliest grades, Chalkbeat wanted to know more about the early childhood discipline landscape in Colorado. Data from the Colorado Department of Education revealed several trends.

Among them: Young black boys are suspended at disproportionate rates. Some rural school districts have the highest early childhood suspension rates in the state.

And despite nationwide debate about the impact of harsh discipline on young children and local efforts to bring the numbers down, suspensions in the early grades are actually going up. Read more.

In Denver’s gentrifying neighborhoods, some middle-class parents are avoiding the school down the block

Many neighborhoods in Denver are gentrifying, with middle-class families moving into what have historically been working-class communities. That type of demographic shift could easily lead to neighborhood schools that are more integrated by family income and race.

But that doesn’t always happen in Denver. Instead, data show that wealthier families – more often than low-income families – are using Denver Public Schools’ universal school choice process to send their kids to schools elsewhere in the city.

That’s a problem because research shows integrated schools boost test scores for students from low-income families without lowering the scores of those from wealthier ones. Denver officials want to see those benefits, but allowing parents to choose may be thwarting them. Read more.

Why this Colorado principal hand delivers birthday cards to more than 2,000 students and staff

Northglenn High School Principal Sharee Blunt is Colorado’s 2018 School Principal of the year — but perhaps even more impressive is the enormous number of birthday cards she hand delivers each year. If you’re one of those people who can barely remember your spouse’s birthday, you’ll be floored by Blunt’s annual feat.

In our interview with Blunt, part of Chalkbeat’s “How I Lead” Q&A series with distinguished school leaders, she talks about what she realized after a mother’s emotional reaction, and why she gave a teacher a pass during a lesson that went awry. Read more.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.