annals of law

With focus on teacher data deal, other education bills moved too

All eyes might have been on the teacher evaluation shield bill this week, but that wasn’t the only education issue lawmakers tackled this spring. A host of other education bills traveled through both houses of the legislature in recent months, with varying success. Here’s a brief rundown of those bills and how they fared:

Senate, Assembly pave way for universal kindergarten in New York City

In New York City, more than 3,000 children — or 4 percent — of all five-year-olds are not enrolled in kindergarten. Expanding that service has become a pet issue for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other council members, but it first required a change to state law that would allow the city to revise age regulations. Currently, the city requires only that six-year-olds attend school.

The bill passed easily through the Assembly earlier this month, 141-1, and passed in the Senate Thursday just after 9 p.m. The passage doesn’t automatically enact universal kindergarten, however. To do that, city officials will have to agree to new age regulations. Mayor Bloomberg initially raised questions about the expansion’s cost — he estimated the additional enrollment could run $30 million a year — but the city Department of Education has since come out in support of the legislation.

The bill still needs a final signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in order to become a law. “We are reviewing the legislation,” said a Cuomo spokesman.

“This bill will be life changing for the nearly 3,000 New York City kids that enter the first grade having never set foot in a classroom each year — kids who often need kindergarten the most,” Quinn wrote in a joint statement with Council members Robert Jackson and Stephen Levin.

Union opposition helps block bill to change way charter schools serve special needs students

A persistent criticism of teachers unions about charter schools is that they don’t serve the same proportion of special-needs students as their district counterparts. But when charter school supporters worked with lawmakers to create legislation that would help charter schools do just that, it was the state teachers union, NYSUT, that helped to block the effort.

The bill passed easily in the Senate on Tuesday, 46-13, but it was never voted on in the union-friendly Assembly, in part because NYSUT lobbied against it just days earlier. The union’s position infuriated charter school advocates, who said the opposition was hypocritical and misleading.

“It’s disgraceful the Assembly will go home for the summer without passing a no-brainer of a bill that would have greatly increased the ability of public charter schools to serve children with special needs,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center, a charter school advocacy and support group. “While charter schools have gone to great lengths to make sure they can educate students of all needs and backgrounds, the state teachers union, which opposed this bill, once again showed their number one priority is maintaining power rather than helping children.”

Bill to weaken mayoral control fails to find a Senate sponsor

When a historic school in his district faced closure earlier this year, Assemblyman Keith Wright threatened to roll back some of Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the school system with legislation that would give local parent councils the final say on all co-location plans. The city eventually removed the school from its list of closures, but Wright moved forward with his legislation anyway.

The bill never made it far, however. It passed in the Assembly yesterday, 111-21, but was never introduced in the Senate, leading one critic to question whether Wright was ever serious about passing it in the first place.

“If Wright wanted the bill passed, he should have informed parents they need to come to Albany and lobby legislators, especially the Senate Republicans who control the Senate,” Mona Davids, a parent organizer, wrote in an email. “There were no attempts to engage the Senate Republicans because EVERYONE knew Wright’s bill was a one-house bill.”

Bill to preserve federally funded tutoring services in New York loses traction

As part of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, the State Education Department won permission to give federal funds that had gone to tutoring companies to educational organizations that officials would be able to vet. With its future in question, the tutoring industry aggressively lobbied lawmakers to introduce legislation that would revoke the change. Legislation was introduced in both houses — and advanced in the Senate — but ultimately was not voted on.

The bill could be resurrected next session, a sponsor told GothamSchools earlier this week.

“If it doesn’t get passed, I’m glad that the students will be eligible for another year, so there’s still time for us to remedy the problem,” said Assemblyman Karim Camara.

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Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.