layoff likelihood unclear

Cuomo suggests cutting city school funds to near-2007 levels

Governor Andrew Cuomo is suggesting that the state cut its contribution to New York City public schools by nearly $600 million from the level that schools received this year.

The budget, released today, proposes reducing statewide school spending by $1.5 billion from this year’s level. Activists said that would be the largest dollar figure cut to public schools in New York’s history.

The proposal would bring the state’s contribution to city schools close to the level received in 2007. That year ushered in substantial funding increases after a court ordered New York State to reduce historic funding inequities by pouring billions of extra dollars into the New York City schools.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget for fiscal year 2011, denoted with the asterisk, would reduce the state's spending on New York City public schools to $7.5 billion.

Planned increases have since been frozen, cut, and now frozen again. Cuomo’s budget suggests postponing them into the future.

Mayor Bloomberg described the budget in drastic terms, comparing Cuomo’s proposed city schools allocation — $7.5 billion — to the figure state budget officials projected last year. That projection was $8.8 billion, a nearly $1.4 billion difference.

In a statement this afternoon, Bloomberg argued that a cut of that size would lead to “thousands of layoffs in our schools and across city agencies.” He pushed Cuomo and the state legislature to reduce the loss to city schools by cutting teacher pensions and loosening requirements for special education.

The New York City teachers union downplayed Cuomo’s budget. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said that Chancellor Cathie Black should be able to make the needed cuts without laying off teachers.

“The Governor’s planned cut to New York City schools amounts to about three percent of the school system’s budget,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “We have every confidence that Cathie Black, whose management skills the Mayor has repeatedly cited, will be able to manage a reduction like this without laying off teachers and raising class sizes.”

The contrasting statements reflect the different political priorities of the union and the mayor. While the mayor has long argued for reductions in rapidly rising teacher pension costs, the teachers union has pushed the Bloomberg administration to preserve teacher benefits by cutting central programs instead, such as the data warehouse known as ARIS.

Last year, a similar back-and-forth — with Bloomberg warning of teacher layoffs and the union downplaying — ended when a combination of a wage freeze and the federal stimulus prevented any teacher layoffs. This year, there is no stimulus funding to plug holes.

“There’s no way that you’re not going to be cutting around the state teachers, programs, psychologists, librarians — you name it,” said Geri Palast, the executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. “This is going to be the worst year yet. There’s no question.”

Bloomberg’s teacher layoff predictions have swung wildly this year. He began 2011 by predicting that the city would have to lay off 6,100 teachers and by the end of last week, had reached an estimation of 21,000 teachers. He eventually backed away from that figure, noting that it was not feasible and promising to find other ways to make cuts.

In his statement on the governor’s budget, Bloomberg did not say how the proposed cuts would affect the city’s layoff estimates, though he numbered likely school layoffs in the “thousands.” He also called — again — for an end to seniority-based teacher layoffs and asked for the state’s help with rising education costs.

The governor’s budget does indicate that Cuomo intends to lower these types of mandated cost increases, but it’s not clear how. The budget states:

“State Aid reductions are coupled with a mandate relief effort, undertaken by Executive Order, which will lower the system-wide cost of providing education services, thus mitigating the impact of decreases in aid.”

Under Cuomo’s budget, the city would also lose $305 million in unrestricted aid that the mayor had figured into his 2012 budget projections. While that funding is not specifically set aside for schools, it could have been used as needed.

Cuomo’s budget also includes competitive funding pools — designed like state versions of the Race to the Top competition — that would reward school districts for cost-savings and academic improvement. He first proposed the pools last month.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.