legislative malfunction

Bleak prognosis for education agenda after budget, corruption

It was already slim odds that education would get much action from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature this session after they increased school aid, funded several education grants, and amended the teacher evaluation law during budget negotiations in March.

But in the aftermath of a federal corruption dragnet that has brought down several lawmakers, any glimmer of hope that education could get some attention seems to have vanished.

“With this legislative session, with all the corruption, I would be surprised if anything gets passed,” said Mona Davids, who runs the New York City Parents Union, a parent advocacy group. State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, of Brooklyn, sponsored a bill to end mayoral control that Davids lobbied for. The bill’s long odds grew even longer after Montgomery’s named surfaced last week as one of seven lawmakers recorded in the home of former Senator Shirley Huntley, who was cooperating with investigators to reduce a prison sentence. Huntley was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for embezzling funds from a charity she ran.

Davids said she believed Montgomery, who has not been charged, has done nothing wrong. Still, she said she doubted the bill could proceed before the session ends on June 30. “It’s May, but it’s over,” Davids said.

Davids’ pessimism reflects a growing sentiment in Albany that began shortly after the legislature passed the budget, when the first corruption cases surfaced. Since then, four lawmakers have been arrested on corruption charges as part of a federal investigation that seems to broaden by the week. As a result, even Cuomo’s agenda — which include a women’s equality act, publicly-funded campaign finance, and bringing casinos to New York — is in doubt.

Lobbyists, legislative aides, and advocates said in interviews this week that it’s not unusual for education to be placed on the back burner after the budget gets passed, though they said the recent events have further doomed the outlook.

Education was a top priority in 2010, when the state needed to pass laws to qualify for the federal Race to the Top grant, but since then, “most of the action has been around the state budget,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “Once the budget passes, that’s it.”

Williams said it’s been like that for the last two years, in response to steep budget cuts to education spending that have chilled lobbying efforts.

Occasionally though, hot-button issues do arise and get placed onto Governor Andrew Cuomo’s agenda. That was the case last year, when one of the last bills passed by the legislature before going home for the summer was a law to shield teacher evaluation ratings from public view.

This year appears was different, sources said.

“A lot got addressed in the budget,” a legislative source said. “There is no clear issue.”

This year’s budget included funding for grant programs that Cuomo championed through his education reform commission, including money for extended day, community schools, universal prekindergarten, and early college high schools.

Those were relatively easy compared to an amendment to the teacher evaluation law that Cuomo pushed for. The amendment inserted a financial penalty for districts that aren’t implementing their approved plans according to the law’s intent.

“Nobody wanted to touch this thing,” a source close to the negotiations said. “The union on one side, Bloomberg on the other. Both have strong advocates, but at the end of the day, they were sort of forced to figure out a solution.”

The unions are still hoping for traction on some of the bills they’ve proposed. The state teachers union’s big push is the “Truth-about-testing Act,” which would require the State Education Department to audit the costs of the state’s testing program. The two sponsors of that bill, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Sen. George Latimer, did not respond to requests for comment.

At the city level, the United Federation of Teachers is hoping to push longstanding priorities on its agenda, including changes to the mayoral control (it isn’t supporting Montgomery’s bill), place a temporary ban on school closings, and require local approval for school siting plans. It also is backing a bill that would eliminate the waiver option available to New York City chancellor candidates with no education experience.

The legislative session closed early this week due to a holiday. Speaking at a press conference to announce support for a bill to improve working conditions for farmers in the state, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he still had big plans for the rest of the session, beginning with the introduction of the DREAM Act next week and reforms to policing tactics known as stop-and-frisk.

“I would hope that we can stay focused on the kind of legislation I’m talking about,” said Silver.

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

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.