head count

DOE likely to increase class size targets, official says

The city’s Department of Education will likely lift the ceiling on class sizes this year, a department official said today.

DOE chief operating officer Photeine Anagnostopoulos told the City Council education committee this morning that it was realistic to expect the city to “adjust” its class size targets. How dramatic the increases will be is still unclear, she said.

“We have to go back and do some more homework,” Anagnostopoulos said.

Anagnostopoulous’ comments came during a hearing on the department’s use of state Contracts for Excellence funding. The funds are given to school districts that prove they will spend the funds in six key areas, one of which is class size reduction.

As part of the legal settlement that established the funds, the city was required to adopt a five-year plan for class size reduction. Under that agreement, which the state approved in 2007, the city planned to reduce class size to around 20 students in kindergarten through third grade, around 23 students in grades four through eight by the 2011-12 school year.

That plan was made under the assumption that the amount of state money would increase each year, Anagnostopolous said. This year, in the face of a severe budget deficit and looming cuts, the state froze the funds and planned to grant the city the same amount it received last year.

“Now we have two years with no new money,” Anagnostopolous said.

Anagnostopoulos said that though the total amount of Contracts for Excellence funding will remain constant this school year, how the money is spent will change.

A growing number of principals have decided to spend their funds not on reducing class size, but in one of the program’s other key areas, Agnostopolous said.

“It’s likely that the combination of budget cuts and rising costs created a situation where principals felt that other strategies would be more effective and achievable than class size reduction,” she said. She later pointed to an increase in funding for programs for English language learners as an example of where principals may be redirecting their spending.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of the non-profit Class Size Matters, disputed this claim in testimony later in the hearing. She pointed to responses to her organization’s survey of principals that suggests many principals believe their large class sizes prevent them from providing a quality education to their students.

Anagnostopoulos spent much of the rest of the hearing defending the department’s handling of the public comment process on how the funds should be spent. While most school districts in the state held their mandatory hearings on the funds over the summer, the city DOE delayed their hearings until after the school year began.

Anagnostopoulos defended the decision to hold the hearings later in the year, saying that it did not make sense to hold hearings on the funds until after the overall city budget was set.

She added that the move was intended to increase public participation in the hearings, though she said the department had not compiled numbers on how many people attended the hearings, which took place at the first meeting of each local district’s Community Education Council.

A representative of the group that brought the lawsuit which resulted in the state funds said that was no excuse for delaying the hearings. “The time line really makes a mockery of the process,” said Helaine Doran, deputy director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

The hearing also resurrected a debate over whether the city is using the state funds to supplement its own budget, or using the state funds instead of allocating city money to areas like class size reduction. Under the state legislation establishing the fund, the city is required to use the funds “supplement, not supplant” its own spending, which Anagnostopolous said the city was doing.

Doran and Eric Weitman, the New York City advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, charged that the city had cut more from the budgets of the highest needs schools. The result, they said, was that the Contracts for Excellence funds are being used to fill in the gaps.

“We think supplanting is still on the table here,” Doran said.

The Alliance for Quality Education made the same argument in a new report on how the city is using its Contracts for Excellence spending, timed to coincide with the hearing. The report is not available on the AQE website, but here it is in full:

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”