Who Is In Charge

Education advocates respond to Cuomo’s State of the State speech

With a broad slate of education policy proposals in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address today, there was plenty of material to let advocates and officials hear what they wanted to. Most of the responses that poured in via press release were favorable but addressed only some of Cuomo’s proposals.

Here’s what advocates and officials had to say, presented in reverse order from how we received them:

Families for Excellent Schools:

We fully support Governor Cuomo’s remarks on education today, and that we must take public education into the 21st century.  A key part of excellent school systems has to be the growth of public charter schools as they equip students for college and careers, which is why it is concerning that Mayor de Blasio continues to press a charter rent agenda that could throw thousands of kids out of their public schools and set them back for years.

State Education Commissioner John King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch:

The Governor has presented a strong vision for our students and our schools.  Every child should have access to the opportunities high quality pre-k provides. The Governor’s proposal will help all our youngest students get the best education possible.

Our best teachers should be recognized and rewarded. They serve as role models and mentors for their colleagues. The Governor’s proposal to create a Teacher Excellence Fund will strengthen the profession and help our students achieve.

Technology is already part of our students’ lives. It should be part of their education. The Governor’s plan will make every classroom a 21st century classroom.

Governor Cuomo gets it: our schools make our future.

The Campaign for Children, which advocates for early childhood education:

We are heartened that Governor Cuomo has pledged to make statewide universal pre-k a priority. In New York City, we need the tax plan that Mayor de Blasio has laid out in order to generate the dedicated resources needed for a full and secure investment in both universal pre-k and after-school programs. New York State has promised universal pre-k for more than 15 years – but without a dedicated funding stream at the level needed, the promise has gone unfulfilled. New York City should have the authority to raise its own taxes to pay for the critical expansion of full-day pre-K and after-school programs for middle school students that Mayor de Blasio has called for.

Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education:

Parents are sick and tired of protesting year after year to stop cuts to pre-k and after-school whenever times get rough—our children deserve a dedicated funding stream that cannot be messed with.

Governor Cuomo’s promise for universal pre-k is welcome, but it should not become an excuse to block New York City from paying its own way and getting all four-year-olds in pre-K this year.

Mayor de Blasio has a plan for how New York City can guarantee full-day pre-k for every child, not as a futuristic goal, but right now.

Billy Easton, AQE’s executive director:

Governor Cuomo is right to highlight the deep inequality between rich and poor school districts in New York—however under his tenure, the opportunity gap between them has widened, not shrunk.

“Governor Cuomo has marvelous rhetoric when it comes to education— however, the reality has fallen way short of the rhetoric. Nothing in his speech today suggests that he is going to finally address the inequality between rich and poor school districts.

“While the promise of full day pre-k is encouraging, we will have to wait to see what is in his budget. It is certain that Governor Cuomo and legislators should support allowing New York City to tax their own citizens to locally finance pre-k for every four-year-old.

“While a new education technology bond act is a good idea, it will not close the gap in classroom opportunities– the only thing that can begin to reverse inequality is a $1.9 billion increase in school aid.

New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman:

We applaud Governor Cuomo for the bold, forward-thinking vision for a strong New York that he shared in today’s State of the State. Once again, we look forward to working closely with the Governor to ensure that the government is using every tool available to boost student achievement, reward effective teachers and ensure that lower-income and minority students have access to the strongest public education possible.

StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis:

With his bold announcement of the Teacher Excellence Fund and $20,000 bonuses for highly effective teachers, Governor Cuomo has positioned New York as a leader in the national education reform movement.  New York’s innovative teacher evaluation system allowed us to finally recognize teachers for their performance and now we can compensate them as the professionals that they are.  Governor Cuomo knows that the quality of the classroom teacher is the single greatest factor in a child’s success, and he’s investing New York’s precious dollars where they will have the greatest impact: teacher quality. Governor Cuomo is to be applauded for his unwavering commitment to the children and families in New York State.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.