dollars and cents

New school construction estimates rise slightly after dropping

Under Albany’s new budget agreement, New York City’s school capital plan will regain roughly 12,000 seats — a boon to school officials who expected harsher cuts, but a number that does not meet earlier demand estimates.

In November of last year, city officials estimated that they would need to increase earlier seat construction projections in the face of overcrowding in schools. At the time, they planned for 50,074 new seats to be built by 2014, many of them in elementary and middle schools where demand had ballooned.

Then came a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo to cap state spending on school construction aid. The plan would have significantly reduced the state’s contribution. To absorb the cut, city officials said they wouldn’t be able to build thousands of the seats they had planned on — a decision that would have affected schools in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Riverdale, Bronx, the most.

But now that Cuomo’s proposal has not been included in the budget agreement, the numbers have changed again. With $1.7 billion more to spend on school construction, the city can now afford to build about 26,500 seats, instead of the roughly 14,000 it had planned on.

City officials said that more information about which neighborhoods would benefit from the seat construction increase, and which would not feel any effect, would be released tomorrow.

CHANCELLOR-DESIGNEE WALCOTT ANNOUNCES 12,000 SCHOOL SEATS AND $1.75 BILLION RESTORED TO DEPARTMENT’S CAPITAL PLAN

Meeting with Assembly and Senate Education Committees in Albany, Chancellor-Designee Walcott Says Swift Action by Legislature Helps City Restore Nearly 12,000 School Seats for Construction

Chancellor-Designee Dennis M. Walcott today announced a new proposed amendment to the Department of Education’s Five-Year Capital Plan, which restores 11,979 school seats for construction and $1.75 billion in total funding for the plan. The amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 – 2014 Five-Year Capital Plan now proposes funding for 28,866 new school seats citywide and a total investment of $11.1 billion over five years.  The Chancellor-Designee was in Albany to meet with the State’s Assembly and Senate Education Committees.

“For months now, we have faced the prospect of big cuts in aid from Albany that would have meant fewer new school seats and more overcrowding,” said Chancellor-Designee Walcott. “Today, I’m pleased to announce that the Legislature has come through for New York City, putting us back on track to add over 28,000 seats in neighborhoods with the most need. We’re also investing in critical technology and infrastructure for our schools and moving forward with a plan to improve energy use and environmental quality of our buildings. I’d like to thank the Legislature, and particularly Assembly Education Chair Cathy Nolan and Senate Education Chair John Flanagan, for their leadership in protecting State support for school construction.”

The new April amendment to the capital plan restores funding by $1.75 billion, bringing the total to $11.1 billion over five years. The portion of that total dedicated to capacity is now $4.6 billion, a $1.7 billion restoration, which funds a total of 28,866 seats for construction or design. The new amendment also brings capital investment to $6.5 billion in order to fund critical upgrades to school infrastructure, including an additional $141 million for the City’s comprehensive plan to increase energy efficiency and environmental quality in public schools.

In February, the Department proposed an amendment to the capital plan based on the Governor’s original proposed cap on building aid, which would have cut the State’s commitment to the City by 48% and forced the delay of 17,000 new seats. The Governor’s proposal was not included in the State’s adopted budget. With State funding restored, the Department is now able to fund 26,552 seats for construction and an additional 2,314 seats for design. The 26,552 seats fully funded for design and construction is a nearly 12,000 seat increase over the February amendment.

The new April amendment will be reviewed and voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy. It will then be forwarded to the City Council for review and approval as part of the City’s annual budget adoption process.

The School Construction Authority manages new school construction and renovation of the City’s existing school buildings for the Department of Education. Over the last seven years, the City has improved construction efficiency and implemented a comprehensive capital planning process that ensures school construction keeps pace with student demand. Through these efforts, more than 100,000 school seats have been constructed since 2003, including 24,995 in the Bronx, 24,463 in Brooklyn, 12,987 in Manhattan, 32,524 in Queens, and 5,619 in Staten Island.

listening tour

We asked six Colorado school board members what they want from the state’s next governor. Here’s what they said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Late last week, nine candidates for Colorado governor came together to talk education, addressing an annual fall conference of school board members.

Now, we’re giving some of those audience members a chance to speak up.

Before the gubernatorial hopefuls took the stage, Chalkbeat recorded interviews with a half-dozen school board members who represent districts across the state. Our question to them: What are the big education questions you hope the next governor will take on?

Not surprisingly, funding challenges came up time and again.

One school board member asked for a more predictable budget. Another asked for schools to get their fair share of annual increases in new tax dollars. One went so far as to say the next governor would be a chicken if he or she didn’t take on reforming the state’s tax code.

We also heard a desire for leadership on solving teacher shortages, expanding vocational training and rethinking the state’s school accountability system.

Here are the six gubernatorial wishes we heard from Colorado’s school board members:

Reform TABOR to send more money to schools

Wendy Pottorff, Limon Public Schools

Since the Great Recession, Colorado schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while the state legislature has tried to close its education funding shortfall, lawmakers haven’t been able to keep up. Getting in the way, Pottorff says, is the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Change the conversation about public schools


Paul Reich, Telluride School District

Reich says public schools are under attack under the false premise that they’re failing — and that isn’t helping the state recruit bright young teachers. He said the next governor must change the conversation about schools to make teaching a more desirable profession.

Provide a clear budget forecast

Anne Guettler, Garfield School District

Approving a school district’s budget is one of the many responsibilities of a Colorado school board. That’s a tall challenge when the state’s budget is constantly in flux, Guettler says. She hopes the next governor can help provide a clearer economic forecast for schools.

Rethink school accountability to include students and parents

Greg Piotraschke, Brighton 27J

Colorado schools are subject to annual quality reviews by the state’s education department. And it’s time for the state to rethink what defines a high-quality school, Piotraschke said. He suggested the governor could help rethink everything from how the state uses standardized tests to how to incorporate parents and students into the review process.

Give schools more resources to train the state’s high-tech workforce

Nora Brown, Colorado Springs District 11

In light of Colorado growing tech sector, several gubernatorial candidates have come out in support of more technical training for Colorado students. But that costs money, Brown says. The Colorado Springs school board member said promising better job training for high school students without more resources is empty.

Remember there’s a difference between urban and rural schools

Mark Hillman, Burlington School District

Crafting statewide policy is an onerous task in Colorado, given the diversity of the state’s 178 school districts. Hillman said the next governor must remember that any legislation he or she signs will play out 178 different ways, so they must be careful to not put more undue pressure on the state’s smallest school districts.

Newsroom

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 Spokane, 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.”