a done deal

Senate leader: Questions about NYC schools spending fueled one-year mayoral control deal

Senate Republicans’ decision to make sure Mayor Bill de Blasio won only a one-year renewal of his control of New York City schools was prompted in part by the city’s spending on struggling schools, their leader said Thursday.

As the legislature prepared to vote on a bill that includes a host of education and housing issues Thursday evening, including the mayoral control extension, Senator John Flanagan offered the most expansive explanation yet for why Republicans stood in the way of giving de Blasio more time. He personally backed mayoral control, he said, but the city’s spending on education had not received enough scrutiny.

“The city of the New York needs a significant round of school aid, which they’re getting,” Flanagan said at a press conference at the Capitol in Albany. “And if it’s a $9 billion check, I think it’s within our purview and our responsibility to ask appropriate questions of, where is the money going?”

He took aim specifically at the city’s spending plan for its School Renewal program, which de Blasio announced in November as a $150 million, three-year initiative that would be used to prompt academic improvements and add support programs at 94 low-performing schools. The city has continued to allocate new resources to the program over the last few months, including by moving money from other summer and after-school programs.

“If you’re dealing with struggling schools and you’re coming up with money, $150 million, to run the program, where is that money coming from?” Flanagan said. “What school is it going to? Does that mean money is being wisely spent or potentially money being taken away from other areas of the city?”

The city now says it is now preparing to spend more than $370 million for the initiative over three years. That money will go toward new health clinics and mental-health services, paying teachers who volunteer to provide an extra hour of tutoring or instruction, new coaches for teachers and principals, and boosting school budgets, among other items.

Flanagan raised concerns about the city’s education spending earlier this month, and one Senate proposal would have required the city to report more information about its education budget to state officials. But, for all of Flanagan’s criticism, the final deal did not include those requirements.

Flanagan ticked off a number of other reasons for the Republicans’ resistance to a longer renewal of mayoral control, putting more emphasis on the de Blasio administration’s actions than any concerns about the merits of mayoral control itself.

Flanagan said he had tried to organize a series of public hearings on the issue earlier in the year, but that he “didn’t really have any cooperation.” Previously, a Senate hearing in New York City was scheduled for early March, but was postponed. Flanagan later said he would hold the hearings “as soon as the mayor and [New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña] make themselves available.”) And he suggested that de Blasio had not done enough to work with the city’s Republican senators and Simcha Felder, a Democrat who votes with Republicans.

A de Blasio administration official disputed Flanagan’s account, saying that Flanagan’s office was told that both de Blasio and Fariña would be available for a hearing.

Flanagan was joined Thursday by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said that mayoral control would be more seriously discussed in the next legislative session. Cuomo said that would offer a chance for the school governance model to be considered for other cities.

“If it works in New York City, well maybe it would work in other cities across the state,” Cuomo said. “So next year I think we’re going to have the opportunity to visit it in a broader context. There are other cities that are now talking about it, thinking about it, upstate cities. And I think that’s a good conversation.”

But other lawmakers said they believed more personal factors were at play.

“Clearly there are some people who are concerned about who the mayor might be,” said Assembly member Deborah Glick. “That’s the issue.”

Despite having notoriously passive-aggressive relations with de Blasio, Cuomo again called him a “personal friend of mine.” Asked why he criticized the mayor anonymously, referring to news stories this week that quoted an unnamed Cuomo official, Cuomo said, “It’s a little faster to talk off the record, you know?”

Glick added that she doubted that extending mayoral control for just one year would prompt a productive debate.

”No, I don’t have any hope that there will be any thoughtful discussion about governance,” Glick said.

Flanagan and Heastie said that lawmakers would vote on a host of legislative issues simultaneously later Thursday night. Legislative language was released to the public and shared with lawmakers for the first time Thursday afternoon, shortly after Cuomo said he would waive the typical three-day public review period for legislation.

The legislation contains few differences from the “framework” deal that Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan laid out Tuesday. It does include two changes that charter-school supporters wanted: Now, charter schools can favor employees’ children in lotteries, and charter schools can employ significantly more uncertified teachers.

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

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.”