Construction Conundrum

In capital plan fight, a reluctance to challenge the city's proposal

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is pushing back against opposition to the city’s proposed school construction plan, saying there is no way for the council legally to vote it down.

Quinn met today with about 30 parents who lambaste the plan as too conservative and an ineffective remedy to overcrowding. The parents are urging council members to vote against the plan when it comes up for a vote, probably on Friday.

But Quinn said the city’s chief lawyer has advised her that the state law governing the city public schools does not contain provisions for what to do if the council votes the plan down.

“We have been informed by the Corporation Counsel of the City that if we were to vote no, the [Department of Education] would effectively be left with no long-term capital budget,” Quinn wrote in a letter to the parents yesterday. In that situation, school construction could grind to a standstill, she said.

The law she was referring to, Section 4 of Education Law Section 2590-p, says, “Following approval by the city board of a five-year educational facilities capital plan, the chancellor shall submit such plan to the mayor and the council of the city of New York for their approval.”

Patrick Sullivan, a parent leader who sits on a task force to tackle overcrowding in Manhattan and who is also a member of the city school board, the Panel for Educational Policy, said he thought the city could revise the plan and resubmit it to the council quickly, before the council’s June 30 deadline to set the city’s budget. “This could take place in a matter of days without much downside,” he said.

But Quinn said the revision process could drag on indefinitely in that situation. Maintenance projects that are slated to take place during the summer might not happen, and other construction projects that are in development could be shelved entirely, she said. “It’s the unknown and that to me is very, very worrisome,” she said.

Instead of voting down the plan, Quinn said the council would push for a state law to require the city to measure classroom space using the state’s class size targets. Right now, the city sometimes says schools are under capacity even when class sizes are above official state targets. The law would be on top of the one the council already said it would seek so that it can negotiate annual amendments to the school construction plan.

Quinn also said she and other council members are negotiating behind the scenes with the city for improvements to the proposed plan before it comes before the council for a vote. One improvement that she said she is pushing for would force the city to reallocate funds pegged for jails to school construction.

Leonie Haimson, an advocate for school construction who is part of the schools-not-jails push, said she thought Quinn’s reluctance to see council members vote against the plan would work against her in the back-room negotiations that are currently ongoing.

“Christine Quinn has put herself in what appears to be a weak negotiating position, but I’m hopeful that she is pressing her point as hard as she can,” Haimson said.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.