second fiddle

Also in Cuomo's budget: restored exams and other ed initiatives

The fight over teacher evaluations occupied much of Gov. Cuomo’s education talk during his budget address today. But his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in April actually contains a host of other education policy proposals.

Here are some details about each of them. Cuomo’s budget proposes to:

  • Make more funding dependent on performance. Cuomo announced a first round of competitive grants for districts that boost test scores and cut costs a year ago and started taking applications in November. Today, he steered another $250 million in competitive grants into that program.
  • Target school aid to high-needs districts. A little more than $300 million of the $800 million in school aid increases will be targeted to the state’s highest-need districts. The Alliance for Quality Education — whose head, Billy Easton, has drawn criticism from Cuomo’s camp for being “a paid lobbyist for the teachers union” — praised the decision but raised concerns about the competitive component of the state aid proposal.
  • Reverse budget cuts to the state’s testing program. Last year, the Board of Regents closed a budget gap by slashing $8 million from the state’s testing program. The cut caused the state to eliminate January Regents exams, which some high school students must pass to graduate. In August, Mayor Bloomberg announced that private donors had pitched in to pay for the tests for one year. Next year, public funds will pay for the tests once again.
  • Speed teacher discipline hearings. Cuomo’s proposal would set time limits for teacher discipline hearings and require districts and local unions to pitch in for the cost of hearings. Right now, the state covers the entire cost of hearings, which Cuomo said gives districts little incentive to move quickly through the hearings. Last May, state education officials said New York City’s 3020-a hearings have become a model for the state since the city and UFT agreed to close the “rubber rooms” for teachers charged with misconduct. But the city wants additional reforms.
  • Continue the Contracts for Excellence program. Since 2007, a pot of state funds has been earmarked for specific purposes, including reducing class size and extending the school day. The earmarks started to satisfy the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and over time have been frozen, scaled back, and frozen again. Critics charge that the city has misused the funds it has already received, but the city says three years of budget cuts would have taken a larger toll on class sizes and other initiatives without the funds. Next year, districts will get the same amount as they did this year, according to Cuomo’s plan.

The budget proposal also outlines a plan to reduce ballooning preschool special education costs and to streamline school bus purchasing practices.

The complete budget briefing is below.

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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