Funding fight

Trump’s voucher plan would strip funding from over 1,200 schools in New York City, union analysis shows

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Just two days before the U.S. Senate begins its confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos — Donald Trump’s pick to lead the country’s education department — New York City’s teachers union took a swipe at Trump’s central education policy proposal.

The United Federation of Teachers said Monday that Trump’s plan to create a sweeping and publicly funded voucher system would sap funding from 1,265 schools in New York City, resulting in larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and cuts to after-school programs.

Trump has endorsed the idea of shifting $20 billion in federal funds toward vouchers, a plan that is widely assumed to involve reallocating Title I funding currently designated for schools based on the proportion of low-income students they serve.

If that happens, “The damage would spread through the system, raising class sizes even in non-Title I schools, threatening academic enrichment programs, guidance, art and music and other services our children depend on,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a press release.

“We need to hear in detail from Ms. DeVos — a fervent advocate of vouchers and charter schools — what the administration’s plan is for Title I.”

In all, the union said, traditional public schools in New York City stand to lose at least $500 million, which could directly affect 700,000 students. That funding stream represents nearly 40 percent of the federal money directed to the city’s education department, and almost 3 percent of its $23 billion operating budget.

During the campaign, Trump said he would use federal money to finance vouchers for low-income students to attend parochial or private schools. DeVos is a natural pick to advance that policy: She has zealously supported such programs at the state level, and created a successful political action committee to support pro-voucher candidates nationally.

But whether such a program would ever get off the ground in New York is a whole other question. As it stands, Trump’s voucher proposal assumes that state legislatures will pick up most of the tab — in New York state, that is likely a political non-starter. And even if the legislature did kick in support, the state constitution bars public financing of religious schools, which comprise the vast majority of the city’s private schools.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine DeVos will continue to support policies that shift resources away from traditional public schools, generating pushback from the country’s largest teacher unions. (Randi Weingarten, the head of the national American Federation of Teachers, is scheduled to deliver a speech Monday that will likely outline objections to DeVos’ education record.)

The UFT’s analysis includes a list of New York City schools that stand to lose the most funding, which you can find here.

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.