high rolling

Also on the ballot: a divisive gambling proposal to fund schools

At left, state Senator Liz Krueger with New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long (credit: Andrew Goldston); At right, UFT President Michael Mulgrew with Assemblyman Keith Wright and Heather Briccetti, CEO of the New York State Business Council (in red).
At left, state Senator Liz Krueger with New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long (credit: Andrew Goldston); At right, UFT President Michael Mulgrew with Assemblyman Keith Wright and Heather Briccetti, CEO of the New York State Business Council (in red).

A gambling proposal up for public approval Tuesday is either a “godsend” for New York City schools, or a “bill of goods” filled with false promises. It just depends on whom you’re talking to.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution would allow the construction of up to seven Las Vegas-style casinos in New York State beyond those that already operate on American Indian reservations. Much of the tax revenue from the casinos would be funneled into city schools, which state budget officials have estimated could see as much as $94 million in annual revenue.

“This will be a godsend and gift for our children in our educational system,” Keith Wright, a state assemblyman and co-chair of the state’s Democratic party, said last week.

But others are lobbying against the proposal, cautioning that the promised dividends to schools might well be exaggerated.

The $94 million figure came from the State Budget Office, which based its estimate on the construction of four new casino resorts. It would represent a little more than 1 percent of the $8.5 billion in school aid that city schools are receiving from the state this year.

The ballot measure has pitted traditional allies against one another and lined up unlikely coalitions. Labor unions and business groups have joined Wright in support, saying the casinos, whose construction would be limited to upstate regions at first, can boost economic and job growth in parts of the state in decline. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and both New York City mayoral candidates are on board with the measure.

The United Federation of Teachers jumped on board too, giving $250,000 to a pro-casino group to raise awareness for the issue ahead of the vote.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew held a press conference at union headquarters last week, where he said the extra funding would be helpful at a time when it’s needed the most. Annual school aid increases, he said, have not kept pace with new requirements from the state to adopt Common Core standards and more complicated teacher evaluations.

“The schools need the revenue,” Mulgrew said. “The schools absolutely need the revenue.”

But some organized opposition exists. Not far away from the UFT event last Thursday, a group was at City Hall making their case for why the amendment should be voted down. They included anti-gambling conservative groups and liberal Democrats who oppose gambling on moral grounds; fear a rise in the influence of casino lobbying; and worry that loopholes that could allow lawmakers to slip out of some of the early promises.

“There will be no requirement that the money be spent on the education,” said State Sen. Liz Krueger, of Manhattan. “That could be changed tomorrow.”

Krueger said that she would have been more likely to support the amendment if it mandated that the gambling tax revenues went exclusively to education, as the rules associated with the New York State lottery mandate. She said she was also concerned that lawmakers would find ways to use the new gambling tax revenue to replace other state educating funding streams, rather than add to them, which is what critics say has happened with the lottery in recent years.

“It is very easy to do a bait and switch the way this whole thing has been set up,” Krueger said.

But Mulgrew said that he was confident that the new revenue would prevent any future reductions in school aid. “They can’t say we’re going to cut education with this additional revenue,” he said.

Krueger, who is a frequent ally of Mulgrew, said she wants more state money earmarked for education. She just doesn’t think the amendment on Tuesday’s ballot is the best way to make that happen.

“I just think that some people don’t understand that they’re being sold a bill of goods,” she said.

In New York City, polls show that voters generally support the amendment, but they say they wouldn’t want a casino developed in any of the five boroughs.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”