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.

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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.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”