Occupy the ballot box

On Election Day, Cuomo protesters voted with their voices

The Occupy Wall Street movement spawned another education protest spin-off today, this time led by parents and held at the steps of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in midtown Manhattan.

The new coalition of parents, many of them from Brownstone Brooklyn and accompanied by young children, assembled to voice opposition to the governor’s plan not to extend a tax on the state’s wealthiest residents.

“Occupy the DOE,” another education protest staged last night at Tweed, featured mostly teachers and veteran education activists.

Today’s event, dubbed “Occupy for Education,” was not affiliated with any previous Occupy protest, organizers said, but they borrowed heavily from them, including a human mic and many of the same chants: “We are the 99 percent” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

The protest also featured symbolic ballot boxes for people to vote in support of the so-called “millionaires’ tax,” an income surcharge for individuals who make over $200,000 or families who make over $300,000. Cuomo has repeatedly said he wants the tax to expire at the end of the year, despite voter polls showing widespread support for a newer version that would only tax millionaires. His argument is that the tax threatens to chase away the state’s wealthiest residents, which would, in effect, result in less job creation and less tax revenue, not more.

But parents today said that revenue from the tax, estimated to be $2.8 billion next year, could help restore funding to schools after years of budget cuts that have caused class sizes to rise.

“The short term job creation or protection that he claims will be the result of repealing the tax on millionaires does not justify jeopardizing or not supporting education,” said Liz Rosenberg, a Park Slope parent who helped organize the event.

Rosenberg, whose daughter attends Brooklyn New School, said she and a small group of neighborhood parents thought of the idea to protest last month in response to what they saw from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The protest swelled to more than 100 hundred people at one point, at times stopping rush hour traffic as they marched the perimeter of the 3rd Ave. block between 41st and 42nd Sts. They stoppped outside the doors to Cuomo’s office to stuff cardboard boxes with fluorescent-colored ballots.

Polls show that more than 70 percent of voters disagree with Cuomo’s position. Last month, he compared his unpopular support for allowing the tax to expire to his father’s opposition to the death penalty when he was governor in the 1980s.

But Rosenberg says the younger Cuomo is driven more by ambition than by morals.

“It’s about wanting to run for president,” Rosenberg said. “He doesn’t want to repeal the millionaire’s tax because that’s a constituency he would need to rely on to give him money for his campaign.”

Janice Bloom, another organizer, said she helped because she said parents needed to use their numbers to raise the stakes on policies set by elected officials.

“It feels like parents are a sleeping giant in the city because we’re all voters, but we don’t exercise our votes,” said Bloom, a parent from P.S. 10. “I started thinking, what can we do to get Cuomo’s attention?”


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.