final agreement

State leaders agree to deal extending mayoral control by one year; adds NYC charters

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for a broad overhaul of state education policy last year.

State lawmakers have agreed to a deal that would extend mayoral control of city schools by just one year and would allow more charter schools to open in New York City.

The one-year extension of mayoral control is a significant blow to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had requested a permanent, and then a three-year, extension of the law, arguing that it would provide needed stability as he continued his efforts to improve the city’s schools.

The one-year extension is the “best thing to do at this point,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as he announced the framework of the deal Tuesday alongside Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

The deal comes one week before the mayoral control legislation would have expired, allowing the city to avoid the logistical headaches that would have followed if the legislation had been allowed to lapse, as it was in 2009. But the package of education changes marks another chapter in what has been a series of sobering experiences for de Blasio negotiating with Cuomo and the state legislature.

Last year, de Blasio won funding for his top education initiatives, including pre-kindergarten expansion, but was then hit with a costly new law requiring the city to provide space or rent help for charter schools after he signaled interest in restricting their access to public school buildings. This year, the legislature also passed a new teacher-evaluation law that both de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña have criticized, and Cuomo repeatedly clashed with the mayor over rent regulations and other issues.

The deal would also increase the number of additional charter schools that could open in New York City from 25 to 50. Of the 25 new charters, 22 are coming from schools that were authorized but never opened or that have closed, which under current law still count against the cap. New York City, where there is more demand for charter schools than the rest of the state, will also have three charters moved from the statewide pool of charters to its own.

The deal would also remove the specific numbers of charters assigned to both of the state’s authorizers. That would allow more city charter school applicants to apply through the State University of New York — a big deal for the larger charter school networks, whose preferred authorizer is SUNY. Before the change, just one more charter school authorized by SUNY could have opened in New York City, but the change would mean as many as 50 now could.

The state leaders also announced an infusion of about $250 million for nonpublic schools, though the much-debated education tax credit did not make it into the final deal. Cuomo said that funding — $100 million more than the education tax credit would have funneled to nonpublic schools — was necessary to help private and parochial schools struggling to stay afloat.

“If we allow those schools to continue to close and those students start moving over to the public school system, you will place an impossible burden on the public school system,” he said.

The deal, which must still be approved by the State Senate and Assembly, pushes the expiration of mayoral control to June 30, 2016. That means de Blasio is likely to spent part of the next year continuing to lobby for a policy he has spent months trying to portray as a settled, nonpartisan matter, lining up support from less-traditional allies like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and coalitions of business leaders.

City teachers union leader Michael Mulgrew, business leaders, and charter-school advocates all found things to praise in the deal, which included concessions for all of those groups.

The unions touted the elimination of a “gag order” that had prohibited teachers from speaking about the state standardized English and math tests. State education officials had prohibited teachers and principals from discussing the tests’ contents because they sometimes had to use the same questions from one year to the next. Another part of the agreement, union officials said, requires that State Education Department release more test questions. (The state released about half of the test questions from the 2014 exams.)

“We started this session with the Governor attacking teachers and public education,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “We have ended up with no education tax credit and no raise in the charter cap, with only four charters reassigned to the five boroughs.”

“The business community is relieved that the end-of-session compromise reflects an undiluted extension of mayoral control of the New York City schools,” said Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of business leaders that advocated for a permanent extension of mayoral control.

legal opinion

Tennessee’s attorney general sides with charter schools in battle over student information

PHOTO: TN.gov
Herbert H. Slatery III was appointed Tennessee attorney general in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam, for whom he previously served as general counsel.

Tennessee’s attorney general says requests for student contact information from state-run charter school operators don’t violate a federal student privacy law, but rather are “entirely consistent with it.”

The opinion from Herbert Slatery III, issued late on Wednesday in response to a request by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, was a win for charter schools in their battle with the state’s two largest districts.

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

McQueen quickly responded by ordering school leaders in Memphis and Nashville to comply. In letters dispatched to Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson and Director Shawn Joseph of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, McQueen gave the districts a deadline, adding that they will face consequences if they refuse.

“If you do not provide this information by Sept. 25, 2017, to the (Achievement School District) and any other charter school or charter authorizer who has an outstanding request, we will be forced to consider actions to enforce the law,” she wrote.

Neither superintendent responded immediately to requests for comment, but school board leaders in both districts said Thursday that their attorneys were reviewing the matter.

Chris Caldwell, chairman for Shelby County’s board, said he’s also concerned “whether the timeframe stated gives us enough time to make sure families are aware of what is happening.”

Wednesday’s flurry of events heats up the battle that started in July when charter operators Green Dot and LEAD requested student contact information under the state’s new charter law, which gives districts 30 days to comply with such requests. School boards in both Memphis and Nashville refused, arguing they had the right under the federal student privacy law to restrict who gets the information and for what reasons.

The attorney general said sharing such information would not violate federal law.

The requested information falls under “student directory information,” and can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. For Shelby County Schools, this type of information includes names, addresses, emails and phone numbers.


To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer.


The opinion also backs up the new state law, which directs districts to share information that charter operators say they need to recruit students and market their programs in Tennessee’s expanding school-choice environment.

However, the opinion allowed for districts to have a “reasonable period of time” to notify parents of their right to opt out of sharing such information. It was not clear from the opinion if the two school districts have exhausted that time.

A spokeswoman for Shelby County Schools said Tuesday the district had not yet distributed forms that would allow parents to opt out of having their students’ information shared, although the district’s parent-student handbook already includes instructions for doing so.

Below, you can read the attorney general’s opinion and McQueen’s letters to both superintendents:

Clarification, Sept. 14, 2017: This story has been updated to clarify the school boards’ arguments for not sharing the information.

First Person

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

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Grace Tatter covers a press conference at the Tennessee State Capitol in 2015.

For three years, I covered the Statehouse for Chalkbeat Tennessee, reporting on how policies from Nashville trickled down into more than 1,800 public schools across the state.

Now I’m starting back to school myself, pursuing graduate studies aimed at helping me to become a better education journalist. I’m taking with me six things I learned on the job about public education in Tennessee.

1. Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.

I heard from hundreds of parents, educators, and students who were passionate about what’s happening — good and bad — inside of schools. I covered crowded school board meetings and regularly scrambled for an open seat at legislative hearings where parents had filled the room after driving since dawn to beat the opening gavel. Not incidentally, those parents usually came from communities with the “worst” schools and the lowest test scores. While many disagreements exist about the best way to run schools, there is no shortage of people, particularly parents and educators, who care.

2. Tennessee has one of the most fascinating education stories in America.

I’ve had a front-row seat to massive changes in K-12 education under reforms ushered in by Race to the Top — an overhaul being tracked closely well beyond the state’s borders. But the national interest and import doesn’t end with changes stemming from the $500 million federal award. Tennessee is home to some of the nation’s premier education researchers, making its classrooms laboratories for new ideas about pre-K, school turnaround, and literacy instruction, just to name a few. And at the legislature, more lobbyists are devoted to education than to most any other cause. A lot of eyes are on Tennessee schools.

3. The education community is not as divided as it looks.

During the course of just a few years, I watched state lawmakers change their positions on accountability and school vouchers. I witnessed “anti-charter” activists praise charter leaders for their work. I chronicled task force meetings where state leaders who were committed to standardized testing found middle ground with classroom educators concerned that it’s gone too far. In short, a lot of people listened to each other and changed their minds. Watching such consensus-building reminded me that, while there are no simple debates about education, there is a widespread commitment to making it better.

4. Money matters.

Even when stories don’t seem to be about money, they usually are. How much money is being spent on testing, teacher salaries, school discipline reform? How much should be available for wraparound services? Why do some schools have more money than others? Is there enough to go around? Tennessee leaders have steadily upped public education spending, but the state still invests less than most other states, and the disparities among districts are gaping. That’s why more than a handful of school districts are battling with the state in court. Conversations about money are inextricable from conversations about improving schools.

5. Race is a significant education issue, but few leaders are willing to have that conversation.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee’s schools are largely racially segregated. Yet most policymakers tread lightly, if ever, into conversations about achieving real racial integration. And in many cases — such as a 2011 law enabling mostly white suburban Shelby County towns to secede from the mostly black Memphis district — they’ve actually gone backwards. Then there’s the achievement data. The annual release of test scores unleashes a flurry of conversation around the racial achievement gap. But the other 11 months of the year, I heard little about whether state and local policies are closing those gaps — or contributing to them — or the historical reasons why the gaps exist in the first place. To be sure, state leadership is trying to address some of Tennessee’s shortcomings. For example, the State Department of Education has launched modestly funded initiatives to recruit more teachers of color. But often, race and racism are the elephants in the room.

6. Still, there’s lots to celebrate.

If there were unlimited hours in the day, I could have written thousands of stories about what’s going right in public education. Every day, I received story ideas about collaborations with NASA in Oak Ridge, high school trips to Europe from Memphis, gourmet school lunches in Tullahoma, and learning partnerships with the Nashville Zoo. Even in schools with the steepest challenges, they were stories that inspire happiness and hope. They certainly inspired me.

Grace Tatter graduated from public schools in Winston-Salem, N.C., and received her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina. She’s now pursuing a master’s degree in specialized studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.