the next education mayor

De Blasio vs. Lhota: the edu-voter's guide to the final matchup

Screen-shot-2013-10-16-at-9.11.57-AMIf you’re like most New York City voters, you’ve already decided who you’re voting for in tomorrow’s mayoral election. (The latest poll puts support for frontrunner Bill de Blasio at 65 percent, and only 8 percent say they might change their minds before Election Day.) But if education is a top priority and you’re still on the fence, here’s the final rundown of what de Blasio and Republican candidate Joe Lhota say they would do as mayor and head of the nation’s largest school system.

Mayoral control

Both don’t want their power diluted significantly: De Blasio and Lhota have said that the mayor should appoint the majority of the members of the Panel for Educational Policy. But they also agree on that PEP members should serve fixed terms and not at the will of the mayor, which would give the body somewhat more autonomy from City Hall.

Charter schools

IMG_5679-e1381267550509The big divergence: Lhota has offered full-throated support of the city’s charter school sector, pledging to double the number of charter schools in the city and continue to support co-locating them in public space. De Blasio has said that well-funded charter school networks should pay rent and said “the city doesn’t need new charters.” He also would pause the system of co-locations—positions that have worried charter network operators and some parents.

The divide was on full display at the October rally charter school supporters held before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, where Lhota greeted students and parents. De Blasio did not attend, though he has taken steps to appear moderate on the issue lately. “There are some very good charter schools, and I’m glad we have them,” he said in August.

Pre-kindergarten access

Similar goals, very different plans: De Blasio has made raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for universal, full-day pre-kindergarten a centerpiece of his mayoral campaign. Lhota has painted himself as a “real” fiscal conservative, and is generally opposed to tax increases. “That’s not going to do one bloody thing to solve income inequity,” Lhota has said of de Blasio’s preschool plan, though he also supports expanding the availability of pre-K.

School closures
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It’s a fundamental disagreement: Lhota has said that keeping low-performing schools open is “immoral” and that he would continue the Bloomberg-era policy of closing schools. De Blasio has called for a moratorium on school closures.

Letter grades

Another total divide: De Blasio has said he would stop issuing letter grades for individual schools, a hallmark of Bloomberg-era accountability. Lhota has emphasized his support for continuing to measure schools in multiple ways and would keep the letter grade system in place.

School support

Tentative ideas for a complicated topic: De Blasio has indicated that he supports giving more power to districts and would consider rethinking the network structure that currently provides support to schools. “Districts matter. … We need to find a way to get parents to be able to talk to someone at the district level; teachers, parents relating to leadership at the district level again,” he saidLhota has offered few specifics about how, or whether, he would make changes to the structure of support organizations.

Merit pay 

photo-12-e1382737140283Another divergence: Lhota has made paying teachers based on performance a central plank in his education platform, arguing that “The one piece that’s missing is working with the union for merit pay and changing their approach.” De Blasio doesn’t support tying pay to performance, something that the city teachers union has consistently opposed.

Specialized high school admissions

A pet issue: De Blasio has often spoken about his desire to amend the admissions process for the city’s nine specialized high schools, proposing a process that would use criteria beyond the Specialized High School Admissions Test to improve diversity in those schools. (De Blasio’s son Dante attends Brooklyn Tech, a specialized high school.) Lhota hasn’t spoken out on the issue, which would affect a small percentage of the city’s high school students.

Cell phones in school

Here, some unity: both de Blasio and Lhota say they want to end the ban on cell phones in schools. That’s a policy that has upset parents and City Council members have called “inconsistent and posssibly discriminatory.” It made de Blasio’s wife Chirlaine upset enough to approach Mayor Bloomberg about.

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.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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