College Readiness

Liu says city should pay CUNY tuition for top high school grads

john-liu-uft
Comptroller John Liu visited UFT headquarters after being elected in 2009. Today, Liu proposed new education and economic policies, including the "community schools" model the UFT favors.

The city should ease the path to college for top high school students by promising them free tuition at city colleges, Comptroller John Liu said today in a “State of the City” speech, his second in 2012.

In the speech, Liu put forth a slate of policy proposals, including several focused on education, that he said would enhance the city’s economic future. Liu is a likely mayoral candidate, but as comptroller his job is to safeguard the city’s financial prospects.

“The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our city’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize,” Liu said, according to his prepared remarks. “It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college.”

Liu did not explain how the city could fund the initiative, but it would not cost much. With tuition set at $5,400 a year, even if every student in the top 10 percent of each graduating class enrolled and would not ordinarily receive financial aid — an unlikely scenario — paying their way would cost less than $12 million a year.

Other proposals Liu made today would cost the city a lot more.

He proposed spending $75 million a year to provide home visits by nurses to thousands of needy families with young children, $32 million a year to give computers to students at high-poverty middle schools, and $176 million a year to add more guidance counselors to city high schools. Liu first proposed expanding the city’s fleet of guidance counselors in October, arguing that the expenditure would pay for itself with economic contributions from people who would not have gone to college without the counselors’ help.

And he said he would add social services to every city school, something the teachers union and city are jointly attempting in six schools this year, at a price tag of $100,000 a school. Liu said the proposal was inspired by a trip he took with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Cincinnati, which has embraced the “community schools” model that the union has been promoting.

“I’d like to see every New York City public school become a community center before and after school,” Liu said. “In addition to after-school programs, it could include a health clinic, and offer resources to parents and adults in the evenings, like tax advisory services and financial literacy courses.”

Most mayoral candidates were slow to respond to Liu’s proposals today. But Tom Allon, whose candidacy as a Republican suffered a blow this week with the possible entrance to the race of former MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, said he supported Liu’s call for a tuition break for top students and noted that it would require only a small expenditure. “Anything we can do to incentivize high school students to graduate and achieve high grades is a good public policy in my book,” Allon said.

The portion of Liu’s speech that focused on education is below:

We’ve discussed how we can make our workplaces and our tax code more equitable. Now we need to talk about how to get our young people into the workplace and how to develop our future workforce and taxpayers.

This requires a “cradle-to-career” approach in order to avoid a “school-to-prison” pipeline. There has been a lot of talk in this City about improving high school graduation rates. And that’s a good thing.

But as we all know, in today’s complex economy, it takes a college degree to make a decent living.

Yet four out of five New York City public high school students do not graduate from college. Let me repeat: four out of five of our high school students do not graduate from college.

In order to maintain New York City’s economic viability, we must work to increase the proportion of New Yorkers with either an associates or a bachelor’s degree from where it is now, at 42 percent, to 60 percent by the year 2025.

New York City should be the education capital of the country. Right now, we lag behind Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. It’s time we reverse New York’s education gap and put our public schools back on track.

Earlier this year, along with Speaker Quinn, and many of our City’s teachers, I visited the school system in Cincinnati.

I was very impressed by what I saw there.

Cincinnati, a city that is home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, takes a holistic approach to education, an approach we can learn a lot from.

We know, from our own research, that we have to start early; even before formal education begins. In fact, in certain situations, even before children are born.

The Nurse Family Partnership provides critical in-home prenatal care for Medicaid- eligible firsttime mothers, and continues parental support for up to 2 years after a child is born.

For less than $75 million annually we can expand this program in NYC from the 2,400 families  it now serves to 14,500 families.

And what does the Nurse Family Partnership do? It results in higher scores on children’s reading and math achievement tests. It produces a 67 percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual problems per child at age 6. It improves a child’s cognitive ability and language development and reduces language delays.

In short, it makes kids from struggling families better able to handle school.

The initial Nurse Family Partnership program in Elmira, N.Y., is now on track to save as much as $4 in taxpayer money for every dollar the program costs.

Now that’s what I call a real return on investment.

Once children are in school, we need to continue to partner with their families. When our Secretary of State was first lady she said: “It takes a village to raise a child.” And she was right.

By the way, I think the world of Secretary Clinton and eagerly await her announcement to jump into the New York City mayoral race…

But seriously, families need to know that there is support for them in the community. That there are people who care. That’s why I’d like to see every New York City public school become a community center before and after school. In addition to after-school programs, it could include a health clinic, and offer resources to parents and adults in the evenings, like tax advisory services and financial literacy courses.

We know that middle school is a particularly vulnerable time for kids. So we need to do more to support our middle school students. In fact, my son Joey is in middle school.

We are privileged today by the presence of a group of very impressive fifth and sixth graders from PS 45 in South Ozone Park, Queens. These kids are on the student council and are here with their principal, Samantha Severin. Please stand up and say hello to everyone. Thank you for coming.

Middle school students often need extra help. That is why I believe we need to expand the Computers for Youth program to every public middle school in New York City where at least 75 percent of the students receive free lunch.

Computers for Youth provides refurbished computers, pre-loaded with educational software, to 6th graders. The program teaches these students and their families how to use the computers. And we can expand this program for only $32 million annually. In today’s day and age, no child, regardless of their family’s income, should live without a computer and internet access in their home.

We also know that guidance counselors are particularly important for college success. Best practices advise that guidance counselors have caseloads no larger than 100.

But in the New York City public schools the average is 259 students to one counselor, and many of our counselors are struggling to care for more than 400 students on their own.

I proposed in October that we change the current unmanageable ratio from 259 students to 100 students per counselor. This will cost $176 million, or about $2,000 per high school student. We already spend $227,000 on every New York City public school child’s education, kindergarten through twelfth grade. Why not give that child the best chance to succeed, for just another $2,000 per kid?

And there are other things we can do. We know from the great results at some of the newest specialized high schools: American Studies at Lehman College as well as Math, Science, and Engineering at City College, that putting a high school on a college campus can create wonderful synergies.

Why can’t we do this for every New York City public high school? We don’t have to move the schools. We can create “sister college” relationships for every high school with the many terrific colleges and universities we have right here in New York City.

We happen to have with us today a class of 12th-grade government students from one of New York City’s historic high schools, Abraham Lincoln in Coney Island. They are here with their teacher, Ellen Levitt. Can you all stand up?

We are also honored to have Mr. George Israel here with us today. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln 64 years ago. George, can you stand up?

There is a lot we can do to make sure our kids graduate from college. In addition to the Macaulay Honors Program that already exists at CUNY, we can and should offer free CUNY tuition to the top 10 percent of New York City public high school graduates. Top graduates from every New York City high school should be eligible for this program.

The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our City’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize. It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college. We must do more to make college affordable.

Let’s bring diversity to New York City’s Specialized High Schools, so that every child has access to an elite education and the privileges that go with it.

Let’s help President Obama, who has worked so hard for all of us, pass the DREAM Act so that immigrants can pursue a higher education.

As many of you know, I came to this country as a five-year-old from Taiwan who didn’t speak a word of English. And if it wasn’t for the great public school teachers I had at PS 203 in Flushing and at Hunter High School and at Bronx Science, I would never be where I am today.

In addition to benefiting from a first-rate New York City public school education, I had a tightknit family and community behind me, supporting me every step of the way.

We need to reweave the fabric of our communities and neighborhoods so that we catch every kid before they fall.

That’s the way we will minimize gun violence on our streets.

That’s the way we will get every kid to earn a college degree.

That’s the way we can help every New Yorker achieve their full potential.

Charter strike

Chicago’s second charter strike ends with pay wins for teachers and paraprofessionals

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff
Teachers and supporters march in front of Chicago International Charter Schools' corporate offices on the fifth day of the strike.

Chicago’s second charter school strike ended early Monday with the teachers union winning concessions on pay raises for teachers and paraprofessionals that will put their salaries on par with educators at non-charter schools.

Under the deal, reached overnight after two weeks without classes, the union said Monday that teachers at four Chicago International charter schools, known as CICS, will see an immediate 8 percent pay bump. Over the next four years, their salaries will rise more substantially.

Paraprofessionals will be brought up to district pay scales immediately, the union said.

Students and teachers at the four schools, are managed by Civitas Education Partners, will return to class Tuesday. CICS oversees 14 schools in all a complex organization that includes multiple managers.

The deal ends the the latest display of the Chicago Teachers Union’s organizing muscle ahead of several high-stakes contract negotiations, including contract with Chicago Public Schools that expires in the spring, and several other charter contracts still in talks.

The contract will apply only to the four schools that have a union and were on strike: Northtown Academy, Ralph Ellison, Wrightwood, and Chicago Quest. But a spokesperson for CICS said Monday that the organization was “committed to equity” across its other 10 campuses and is in internal discussions about how the bargaining will impact teachers and classrooms at its non-unionized schools.

CICS had warned during the strike that it could face bankruptcy if it implemented all of the union’s demands. In a statement Monday, the network said that the issue of “limited funding” was an “unfortunate reality in public education.”

“In order to pay for such a significant salary increase, we will be forced to make certain cuts and compromises,” the statement said. “For example, we will likely need to limit the number of instructional coaches, assistant principals and other valuable support staff members.”

The tentative agreement brings to an end a contentious nine-day strike that started with picket lines and escalated late last week when dozens of teachers blocked the lobby of the Loop high-rise housing the offices of accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. The board president of CICS, Laura Thonn, is a partner in the Chicago offices of the firm.

Friday also was payday for teachers, who received substantially smaller checks than they would have had they been working.

The teachers union and CICS said that the tentative agreement also guarantees assistants in kindergarten, first-, and second-grade classrooms; paid parental leave for teachers; and a slightly shorter work day. The tentative agreement cuts the workday by 15 minutes but does not reduce instructional time, CICS said Monday.

One sticking point was also class size. The tentative agreement sets a “goal” of 28 students per class with a clause that limits class sizes to 30. Overcrowding at district schools has been a point of intensifying discussion this year, too, with a new report from the group Parents 4 Teachers showing that more than 1,000 classrooms in kindergarten through eighth-grade in Chicago have more than 30 students.

“We have finally won a contract that our schools, students, and our staff deserve,” said Jen Conant, a CICS Northtown teacher and member of the bargaining team.

The tentative contract will now go to the broader union membership for a vote.

Charter strike

On Chicago charter strike, how far will the teachers union go?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Picket signs used by protesting strikers from the Chicago International Charter Schools, who were targeting charter network CEO Elizabeth Shaw on Feb. 11, 2019.

Chicago’s second charter strike has now stretched over nine days. Beyond picket lines and hashtags on social media, the Chicago Teachers Union has blocked a lobby of a Loop high rise, delivered labor-themed Valentines to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office at City Hall, and even wrangled appearances from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

How hard will the union push and what’s at stake in its efforts to win a new contract for teachers?

Related: Multiple CEOs, multiple layers: Strike puts charter management under microscope

It could be the future of charter organizing in Chicago, experts say. A victory could “buoy a local wave of new charter school strikes,” said Bob Bruno, director of the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But if the contract doesn’t bring home the goods, failure could cast a pall over future organizing at dozens of Chicago charters — and untold numbers elsewhere.

Bruno expects in coming days to see increased pressure on members of Chicago International’s board, and possibly even a civil disobedience confrontation that ends in arrests. “They’ll look for ways to demonstrate that the ownership and leaders of this charter operator are not people who are invested in schools,” Bruno said, while “looking for ways to move the employer at the bargaining table.”

But the union’s strategy is risky.

Private employers can permanently replace strikers because its teachers are governed by the National Labor Relations Act, not the Illinois Labor Relations Act which protects public employees.

Chicago International, where teachers at four schools are on strike, has dug in its heels, arguing that granting union demands would bankrupt the network within a few years. “They want a compensation that is fiscally irresponsible for us to agree to,” said LeeAndra Khan, CEO of Civitas Education Partners, one of a handful of management companies contracting to run some of the network’s 14 schools.

The strike also comes in the final weeks of Chicago’s mayoral election. The union has backed Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for mayor, but critics wonder if the union’s effort in maintaining the strike means it’s paying less attention to getting Preckwinkle into office.

But the union has tried-and-true tactics, Bruno said, including political pressure and escalating protests that have helped win tough contract battles in the past. It’s become more combative since the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE, won leadership of the union in 2010 with a promise to fight against educational inequalities.

That approach helped teachers in the 2012 strike, when thousands of union members went out on a weeklong strike that captured national headlines and pushed their demands beyond just wages and benefits to broader school-quality factors.

Union political pressure also worked in December, when 500 unionized teachers at Acero charter schools in Chicago walked off the job during the nation’s first-ever strike of charter teachers.

Along with pickets throughout the four-day strike at schools across the city, the union also brought attention to how the network had used its political connections to expand. Strikers stormed the office of powerful Alderman Ed Burke, who represents areas thick with Acero schools. Burke then called the network’s CEO and pressed for an agreement. The strike ended shortly afterward.

The Chicago Teachers Union is also known for its staying power in strikes. In 2012, teachers stayed on strike an extra day to make sure that most members were able to review line items of the new contract before it was signed, despite pressure from Emanuel to end the strike. That strike lasted a total of seven days.

In the case of the Chicago International strike, Bruno said the charter network may shoulder the greater risk. The network, which oversees 14 schools run by five charter management organizations, some of which subcontract management to a third operator, has argued that meeting the union’s demands for wages could push the entire network into bankruptcy.

A strong contract that benefits teachers could also push teachers at the network’s 10 non-unionized schools to push for higher wages, Bruno said. “That could be a problem for the employer.”

While the union may be using tactics it has found successful in the past, management of Chicago International doesn’t respond to the same pressures, organizers acknowledged.

If the campaign doesn’t win raises for teachers, or results in cuts to the classroom, Bruno said it could risk slowing down the broader movement to unionize charters. “It gives teachers across the charter school system pause. They are no less interested in having a collective voice but they will remain somewhat uncertain that the union is the appropriate venue for that,” he said.

Richard Berg, an organizer in the Chicago Teacher Union’s charter division, said that because Chicago International and Civitas aren’t political in the same way that Acero is, the union has shifted to focus to the network’s unusual management structure and its connection to big business.

“If you look at their board, it’s not education people or community people. It’s corporate lawyers and money people,” Berg said. “Our strategy has been to say: OK, well, what is going to influence money people to care about children? The morality of it.”

A federal mediator already attends negotiations between Chicago International and the union.  The network requested federal mediation a month and a half ago, and since then a representative from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been present both at bargaining and in the discussions held independently on each side.

Both teachers and management blame the delay in coming to an agreement on the other side.

“We are determined to make these schools right for our students,” Berg of the union said. “We hope [management] will do the right thing sooner rather than later, because we have thousands of students that are missing school because of management’s intransigence.”

The network, meanwhile, said it’s focused on finding an agreement in negotiations to get back to the classroom. “We are focused on trying to end the strike so that our kids can get back in school,” Khan said.