one day more

It’s crunch time in Albany. What will happen to mayoral control?

PHOTO: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

With one full day left in the legislative session, New York’s education issues boil down to this: What will happen to mayoral control?

Each of the past two years, Mayor Bill de Blasio has received a one-year extension, both times setting up another round of political haggling. Now, with control of New York City schools expiring at the end of June, lawmakers must decide if they will grant another extension, how long it will last, and whether it will come with strings attached.

“There’s only three days left,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Monday. “Our children’s futures hang in the balance.”

Mayoral control of New York City schools has many backers and there is little support for the alternative. De Blasio asked for a multi-year extension, Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested a three-year extension, the Assembly has already passed a two-year extension. Even opponents of the mayor do not suggest returning to a system of 32 different community school boards, which most agree led to dysfunction.

“If they don’t [renew mayoral control], the entire system will slide back into the old, decentralized structure we had before,” wrote Chancellor Carmen Fariña in Chalkbeat. “That would mean chaos, gridlock and corruption.”

Yet, as recently as Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said mayoral control “does not have the support to pass.” That’s largely because Senate Republicans, who have long had a frosty relationship with de Blasio, stand in the way.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has made it clear he wants to tie mayoral control to expanding school choice, including upping the number of charter schools that can open in New York City.

“Denying charters the ability to grow and preventing parents’ ability to choose would shut the door on 20 years of proven gains in academic achievement,” Flanagan said in a statement. “We can not allow that to happen, and will not grant a long-term extension of mayoral control without first ensuring that all students have opportunities.”

The Senate has passed three different options for extending mayoral control, linking control of New York City schools to charter school growth. The longest extension, a five-year deal, would enact a controversial education tax credit, which is strongly opposed by Assembly Democrats. (Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called the trio of bills a “non-starter.”)

Both parties’ hard stance has left some wondering if lawmakers will not reach a deal by Wednesday, when the session ends.

“I’m personally somewhat pessimistic just given the rhetoric,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

There is precedent for letting mayoral control expire. It happened to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009, which resulted in a brief resurrection of the New York City Board of Education in July of that year. The ordeal ended in early August, when lawmakers approved a six-year extension of mayoral control.

So far, de Blasio has avoided letting mayoral control lapse entirely. But each time he has gained a year extension, the “big ugly” deal has brought concessions for charter schools.

In 2015, along with mayoral control, state officials increased the number of additional charter schools that could open in New York City from 25 to 50 and removed the specific number of charters assigned to each of the state’s authorizers. Last year, the deal made it easier for charter schools to switch authorizers.

Both measures helped schools authorized by the New York City Department of Education switch to SUNY or the state’s Board of Regents. Many prefer those authorizers because the city’s education department cannot authorize any new schools — a problem for charter school networks interested in growing.

This year, there has been talk of lifting New York City’s charter school cap. Currently there is a limit on the number of charter schools that can open statewide, and a smaller limit for New York City. Cuomo proposed ending the city’s cap in January, but the proposal did not make it into the final budget deal.

As of June 2017, state law allows for 23 more charter schools to open in New York City, according to the New York City Charter School Center. That means the city is getting close to the cap, but also that the issue could be pushed to next year.

State officials could also tie mayoral control to a requirement for additional oversight of the city’s schools. Last year, lawmakers threatened to appoint an “education inspector,” which did not come to pass. The final deal contained a requirement to release more detailed budget information. (Already this year, Flanagan blasted the mayor for providing school budget information that he believes “does not satisfy the law.”)

Trading mayoral control for more oversight has historical precedent, too. In 2009, when lawmakers ended their stalemate by giving Bloomberg a six-year renewal of mayoral control, they tied the extension to greater oversight from the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Though history suggests extending mayoral control invites concessions, many advocates are hoping the policy is renewed without gamesmanship.

“Extending mayoral control in New York City must be completed before lawmakers leave Albany,” Timothy Kremer, the head of New York State School Boards Association, said in a statement. “The education of children and the leadership of the school system should not be fodder for end-of-session horse-trading.”

call for more

Almost half of Detroit district schools don’t have a gym teacher. Next year, that may change.

Students during PE class at Lyn Knoll Elementary School in 2016 in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Since 10-year-old Hezekiah Haynesworth moved to his new school in the Detroit district, he’s always up out of his seat, talking to classmates and getting into trouble.

His mother, Victoria, says he wasn’t always like this. She believes he has nowhere to burn off excess energy because Bagley Elementary doesn’t offer students enough time for gym class or recess.

Bagley Elementary is one of 50 schools in the district without a gym teacher. Out of the 106 schools in the district, only 56 have at least one certified, full-time physical education teacher, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat.

The district employs 68 certified full-time physical education teachers for its student population of 50,875. More than 15,000 Detroit schoolchildren attend a school without a full time physical education teacher.

In Michigan, there are no laws requiring schools to offer recess. As for physical education, schools are required to offer the class, but the amount of time isn’t specified, which means some kids, like Hezekiah, might only go once a month or less.

“He’s had behavior issues, but if he had the gym time there’s different activities he would do to burn off energy,” she said. “They would get that anxiety and fidgetiness out of them.”

Haynesworth might get her wish. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced earlier this month that there’s money in the budget to put gym teachers back in schools, along with art and music teachers and guidance counselors next school year, though the budget plan has not yet been approved.

“Not every student is provided an opportunity for physical education or gym” right now, Vitti said at a meeting earlier this month.

The district has almost 200 teacher vacancies, and giving schools money for a gym teacher doesn’t mean a school will be able to hire one.

But Vitti said he has several efforts in the works, like more recruiting trips and better hiring practices, to address the difficulties of finding and bringing in new employees.

Detroit is not the only district that has cut back on physical education teachers in recent years. At a time when schools are heavily judged by how well students perform on math and reading exams, some schools have focused their resources on core subjects, cutting back on the arts and gym and cutting recess to make more time for instruction and test prep. But experts say that approach is short-sighted.

Research on the importance of physical activity in schools has reached a consensus — physical education improves children’s focus and makes them better students.

“Available evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the academic topics that are most influenced by physical activity,” according to a 2013 federal report.

The link between physical education and improved reading is especially important for the Detroit district. Educators are working in high gear, in part pushed by Vitti, to prepare for the state’s tough new law that will go into effect in 2020, requiring third-graders who don’t read at grade level to be held back.

This year, the Michigan Department of Education has started to include data on physical education in schools into its school scoring system, which allows parents to compare schools. A separate score for physical education might push schools to hire physical education teachers.

Whether the state’s new emphasis on gym class or Vitti’s proposal to place a gym teacher in each district school is enough to put physical activity back in the schools is unclear, but Hezekiah’s mom Victoria desperately hopes it happens.

Hezekiah is given 45 minutes to each lunch, and if he finishes early, he’s allowed to run with the other children who finished early. If he doesn’t eat quickly enough to play, Victoria says she can expect a call about his disruptive behavior.

“I used to think that my son was just a problem — that it was just my problem,” she said. “But it’s a system problem. They don’t have the components they should have in the school.”

See which schools have gym teachers below.

Out of the game

The businessman who went to bat for apprenticeships is out of Colorado’s governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Cary Kennedy at a candidate forum hosted by the Colorado Association of School Boards. (Photo by Nic Garcia)

Noel Ginsburg, an advocate for apprenticeships and a critic of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, has withdrawn from the Democratic race for governor.

Ginsburg, a businessman who had never run for office before, always faced a tough road to the nomination. He announced Tuesday that he would not continue with the petition-gathering or assembly process after his last place finish in the caucus, where he got 2 percent of the vote.

In an interview with The Denver Post, Ginsburg said, “I don’t believe I have the resources to be fully competitive.”

Just last month, Ginsburg released an education platform that called for the repeal of Colorado’s teacher effectiveness law, the signature legislative achievement of former state Sen. Mike Johnston, also a candidate for governor.

Ginsburg runs CareerWise, an apprenticeship initiative of Gov. John Hickenlooper that allows students to earn money and college credit while getting on-the-job experience starting in high school. His platform called for expanding apprenticeship programs and getting businesses more involved in education.

He also promised to lead a statewide effort to change the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to allow the state to retain more revenue and send much of it to schools. He said that schools, not roads, should be the top priority of Colorado’s next governor.

Ginsburg will continue at the head of CareerWise, as well as Intertech Plastics, the company he founded.

Johnston, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne have all turned in signatures to place their names on the ballot. Former Treasurer Cary Kennedy, who has the endorsement of two teachers unions, is not gathering signatures and will need at least 30 percent of the vote at the assembly to appear on the ballot. Kennedy finished in first place at the caucus earlier this month.