New York

As state budget deal nears, what you need to know about education issues on the table

As state budget negotiations begin to come to an end, the implications for New York City schools are growing clearer. Legislative leaders have leaked a possible price tag for spending on the city’s pre-kindergarten expansion, and facilities funding for charter schools appears to be in the works this year.

But there’s still a lot that we can’t know about the city’s school funding picture for the coming year, or about any law changes that will be made as part of the budgeting process. That’s because the budget only gets settled when a big-picture deal that balances education issues against a host of other concerns facing the state gets hashed out behind closed doors sometime between now and the end of the month.

“We’re close but we don’t have a final deal,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters today, shortly after emerging from a budget meeting with Senate leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The final deal will have big implications on New York City, from pre-K and after school programs already taking shape; to support for its charter schools;  to how much aid will be left for its elementary, middle and high schools. Here are the big education issues that Silver and the other three men who head the state government are weighing as they set the state’s budget.

City priorities: Pre-K funding on way, but after-school prospects less clear

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s flagship initiative is to expand the city’s pre-kindergarten and after-school offerings. He pegged the expansion — which he is moving forward with executing even before shoring up the funding — at $530 million for next year. But Cuomo nixed de Blasio’s proposal to raise the funds through new taxes and instead proposed raising the statewide pre-K budget by just $100 million. Later, after de Blasio leaned on allies in the Senate and Assembly to squeeze more money out of Cuomo, the governor signaled that he would be willing to issue essentially a blank check to New York City for pre-K.

The budget deal will decide how big that check really is and how far de Blasio will be able to go toward making pre-K access truly universal in the city. Sources say the final number for New York City alone would be around $300 million, just shy of the $342 million that de Blasio says he needs for the pre-K component of his plans. That dollar figure would allow de Blasio to execute much of the pre-K planning that is underway.

It’s unclear how much, if any, money will be available for de Blasio to move forward with planned his $190 million after school program expansion, which would more than double the number of middle schools offering after school. Asked if the budget would include money for after-school, Sen. Jeff Klein today reiterated that legislators were focused on funding pre-K.

“Again, it was always $300 million [that] was the target for a full-day universal pre-k for the City of New York,” Klein said. “And we’re moving in that direction.”

The city is already collecting applications from groups that want to operate the after school programs.

Charter schools: Facilities funding likely, but what else is unclear

Following a high-profile spat between de Blasio and charter school advocates in New York City, the Senate proposed a package of bills aimed at ensuring charter schools either receive rent-free space in district buildings or facilities funding to operate in private space.

Silver said Tuesday, for the first time, that he’s open to supporting the latter scenario. In New York City, such a move would be a boon to 68 schools that operate in private facilities and frequently gripe about their funding inequities. It would also open the doors to the prospects of more charter schools opening in private space in the future, which many operators have avoided for years because of the funding difficulties.

While it appears likely that some facilities money will be available to charters in the final budget, a number of questions remain, including how big the pot of funds for charter schools would be, what kinds of spending would be covered, and how much New York City schools would benefit.

The state’s $2.7 billion building aid program for district schools, which could be the model for charter schools, has limits on how much of a project can be reimbursed and rules about how much they can cost. As it does with per-pupil funding formulas, the state factors in local wealth when setting building aid reimbursement rates. In relatively poor cities, such as Buffalo, the reimbursement rate is higher than 80 percent, while in New York City, which has a stronger tax base, the state picks up only about half of facilities costs.

A more aggressive proposal, to require New York City to give 25 percent more per-pupil funding to charter schools that operate in private space, which would account for the share of facilities costs not covered by the state. That proposal is still under discussion, sources say, but there is disagreement on the 25 percent figure. It is seen as less likely to make it into the final budget deal than the building aid plan, seen as a compromise position.

School aid: Will the city get what its schools are owed?

In addition to whatever New York City receives for pre-K and after school programs, K-12 schools are expecting to receive an extra $234 million in state-provided aid, according to the Independent Budget Office. In sum, the city projects it will get about $6.1 billion in foundation aid, representing an increase that isn’t currently in Cuomo’s budget proposal. Advocates and lawmakers have continued to apply late pressure to redirect spending into the foundation aid formula, which is designed to support school districts with large populations of high-need students.

But whatever is likely to come through is still unlikely to come anywhere near what New York City is supposed to be receiving under 2007 funding legislation that was enacted following a legal settlement between the state and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. In 2012, the city was supposed to receive $7.6 billion in funding through a formula set up in 2007 to funnel more money to needy districts. In reality, the city is projected to receive about $6.3 billion by 2015, according to the IBO. 

Common Core and teacher evaluations: No big surprises expected 

The state is in the process of implementing two major changes to schools, new teacher evaluations that factor in student achievement and new standards known as the Common Core. Confusion and dissent about the changes led the Assembly, Senate, state Board of Regents, and advisors to Cuomo all to put forth proposals to improve the rollout. (While the rest of the state is in their second year of implementing new evaluations, New York City teachers and principals are in their first.)

Now, Cuomo and the legislature seem sure to enact some of these fixes through legislation. One thing that all of the proposals have in common are to ban testing in early grades; a reduction in the number of tests required as a result of new teacher evaluations; and to insulate students who receive low scores on Common Core-aligned tests from being penalized. It’s likely that legislation enacted as part of the budget process will enshrine some of those ideas in law.

“We’re talking about doing something so that the testing that takes place in april will be less dramatic, less traumatic to the students,” Silver said on Tuesday.

The prospects are less certain for more aggressive changes that only some lawmakers and advocates want to see. Most significantly, the Assembly and many Senate lawmakers — as well as the city and state teachers unions —  have also called for a two-year moratorium on tying Common C0re-aligned tests to teachers’ evaluation.

But Cuomo has insisted that digging into the state’s 2010 teacher evaluation law, which he helped usher into implementation, is a non-starter. That means it will be a heavy lift for legislators to get the moratorium into budget legislation.

Asked if changes in the budget would affect the teacher evaluation law, Silver said “probably not.”

But just because changes to teacher evaluations don’t happen in this budget session doesn’t mean they are off the table forever. The Senate and Assembly return for a regular legislative session in just a few weeks.

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.