state of the state

Cuomo offers few new education plans for 2018, but says poor schools need more funding

PHOTO: Mike Groll- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2018 State of the State.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo scarcely mentioned education in a lengthy speech Wednesday laying out his policy agenda for the coming year — a marked contrast to previous years when his splashy or controversial education plans made headlines.

In his more than 90-minute State of the State address, Cuomo devoted just a few minutes to education, during which he mainly proposed expanding existing initiatives involving college scholarships, pre-kindergarten, and after-school programs. Unlike in the past when he promoted tougher teacher evaluations, the Democratic governor’s education latest agenda is generally in line with policies favored by progressive voters and teachers unions — factors that may help him as he runs for a third term as governor this fall and mulls a presidential run in 2020.

Two new education plans he’s pushing this year — increased access to school meals and protections for student-loan borrowers — had been previewed by his office ahead of the speech.

While he vowed to maintain a “historic investment” in the state’s schools, he also acknowledged that New York faces “a federal and economic challenge never experienced before” — including a projected $4.4 billion state budget deficit, a federal tax overhaul that targets high-tax states such as New York, and possible federal-funding cuts.

With an eye toward Washington, Cuomo promised to challenge the new tax law in court. And in his call for New York to continue to invest heavily in education — the state spends more per pupil than any other in the nation — he also suggested that poorer districts should get a larger share of that money, which advocates have long sought.

“We must address education funding inequities and dedicate more of our state’s school aid to poorer districts,” Cuomo said. “Trickle-down economics doesn’t work, nor does trickle-down education funding.”

Cuomo will follow up on his speech, which came with a 374-page policy book, with a spending plan that is due by Jan. 12. Then he must negotiate a final budget with state lawmakers, some of whom have already expressed concerns about raising taxes or increasing spending.

Spending restraint should be a top priority,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, in a statement Tuesday.

Here are the main education items in the governor’s proposal:

Fight student hunger: Cuomo put forward an anti-hunger plan to make sure students are well-fed and ready to learn.

The plan would ban “lunch shaming,” where some schools single out students who cannot pay for lunch, and would require schools where 70 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch to provide breakfast after the school day has begun. It also encourages the use of locally grown produce in school meals and would require all public colleges and universities to have food pantries or an arrangement with outside food banks.

Earlier this year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to provide free lunch to all public school students regardless of family income. The city also offers free in-classroom breakfast for all elementary school students.

Help students pay for college: Cuomo announced several new protections for student-loan borrowers. The proposal would put new restrictions on student-loan providers, forbid the suspension of professional licenses for those who default on their loans, and provide students with more information about paying for school each year.

The proposal comes after Cuomo scored a key legislative victory last year with passage of the “Excelsior” scholarship, a plan to provide free tuition at in-state colleges for middle-income families. In the second year of the program, students from a wider range of families will be eligible for the scholarships, which Cuomo said will cost $118 million.

Train teachers in computer science: A new $6 million grant program would pay for teacher training in computer science and engineering. Mayor de Blasio’s plan for every New York City student to learn the basics of computer science will require about 5,000 trained teachers, city officials have estimated.

Expand existing initiatives: The bulk of Cuomo’s 16 education-specific plans are expansions of existings efforts. Many of them — including pre-K, after-school programs, and student mental-health services — overlap with initiatives already underway in New York City.

  • Pre-K: $15 million to grow the state’s prekindergarten offerings, which Cuomo launched in 2013 and has expanded each year. That is close to the $20 million that the state Board of Regents requested for preschool seats this year. Cuomo’s plan would add pre-K seats for both 4- and 3-year-olds — which could be good news for Mayor de Blasio, who is seeking state funding for his own “3-K” program.
  • After-school programs: $10 million to fund a second round of competitive grants to fund after-school programs in high-poverty areas, which included the Bronx last year. This round, a portion of the grants will be reserved for districts with high levels of student homeless or gang activity.
  • “Early college” high schools: $9 million to create 15 additional high schools where students can earn some college credit or associate’s degrees.
  • “Master teachers”: $1 million to give select teachers in high-poverty districts an annual stipend along with extra training, which Cuomo says will help draw effective teachers to high-needs schools.

exclusive

Walton memo recommends charter advocates do more to persuade Democrats and appease unions

Governor Charlie Baker speaks during an announcement regarding Charter Schools at Brooke Charter School in Boston, Mass. on October 8, 2015. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Charter advocates in Massachusetts need to better galvanize charter teachers and do more to convince Democrats if they want to win future fights, recommends a memo commissioned by the Walton Education Coalition.

Earlier this week, Chalkbeat reported on part of the memo — a postmortem of a high-profile effort to raise the cap on Massachusetts’ charter schools — and has since obtained additional pages, which appear to make up the entirety of the report. (The Walton Foundation, which is legally separate from the Walton Education Coalition, is a funder of Chalkbeat.)

The final pages highlight challenges that charter advocates will likely face in the state and offer a playbook for moving past their recent defeat — though it’s far from clear whether these strategies will be successful.

The report recommends mobilizing teachers who support charter schools, acknowledging the widespread opposition to the 2016 ballot initiative among Massachusetts teachers, who were trusted in their communities.

“If the opposition is on the ground, they must be matched on the ground, by equally trustworthy validators,” concludes the report, which is dated March 2017.

Another potential counterweight: parents.

“If parents can be mobilized to voice opposition, teachers may listen and break from the pack,” it says. “Alternatively, research should be conducted to identify a voice, alternative to teachers, that can be trusted on education reform.”

The report acknowledges the challenges in persuading Democrats, who overwhelmingly opposed the referendum, known as Question 2. In the future, charter advocates may need to push their messaging to the left, the report suggests.

“Advocates should test owning the progressive mantle on education reform and charters: this is about social justice, civil rights, and giving kids a chance,” it recommends. “While this is a problematic frame for the electorate as a whole, it may speak to the values of a Democratic electorate.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is especially unpopular among Democrats, just adds to advocates’ challenge. “As Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos begin to champion school choice, we need to separate Democratic goals and motivations from theirs in left-leaning states,” the report says.

The partisan divide is opening up in national polling and playing out in local politics. The latest example is in Colorado, where the state party recently passed a resolution highly critical of Democrats For Education Reform.

The memo recommends that charter advocates try to appease their opposition by pushing for additional spending on all schools. Research has shown that the expansion of charters comes at a significant price for district schools, which was a key issue in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

“By giving a little to everyone, and sweetening deals with additional funding, the narrative that new charters will ‘take’ from current schools becomes less relevant,” the memo says.

In Massachusetts, it’s clear that charter advocates have a long way to go to change the narrative in the state. Earlier, the report notes that that there was “such a fierce opposition that No on Question 2 signs were seen in January [2017] at the Women’s March in DC.”

Read the full memo below.



Digging in

‘I do not plan to resign,’ McQueen tells lawmakers over latest testing missteps in Tennessee

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen testifies Wednesday before state lawmakers about technical problems that stalled students' online TNReady tests this week. Beside her is Brad Baumgartner, chief operating officer of Questar, the state's testing company.

Candice McQueen adamantly told state lawmakers Wednesday that she will not step down as Tennessee’s education commissioner over the state’s bungling of standardized tests for a third straight year.

One day after House Democrats called for the embattled leader to resign, McQueen reported that students were testing successfully online on the third day of TNReady. She said the problems of the first two days had been addressed — at least for now.

The commissioner opened a two-hour legislative hearing with an apology to students, parents, and educators for technical problems that stalled testing and affected tens of thousands of students this week.

“We were completely devastated when we heard that districts were again having technical issues yesterday,” she said of issues now being attributed to a “cyber attack” on the data center operated by testing company Questar.

She reported speaking with the head of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation about a possible criminal investigation — but that jurisdictional issues may prevent that since Questar’s data center is located in Minnesota. Immediately, she said, the state will work with Questar to hire an independent investigator.

Rep. Mike Stewart

That plan angered Rep. Mike Stewart, a Democrat from Nashville, who fired off the opening question that set the tone for most of the day’s dialogue.

“Could you answer the fundamental question why you should not use this hearing to resign right now, based on these consistent failures?” Stewart asked, citing problems that go back to 2016 when Tennessee canceled much of TNReady after the state’s first attempt at online testing collapsed.

“I do not plan to resign,” McQueen responded, adding that she expected to power through the next three weeks of testing with “continued improvement and success.”

At her side was Brad Baumgartner, chief operating officer of Minnesota-based Questar, which is under a $30 million annual contract with Tennessee’s Department of Education that expires this year. He took responsibility for this week’s testing failures.

“I think it’s important for members here to understand that the department did everything that they could to thoughtfully plan for this administration, as did the commissioner,” Baumgartner told lawmakers.

“We own the last couple of days,” he added.

That prompted Stewart to ask McQueen why the company that’s acknowledging mistakes is also spearheading the investigation into them.

"Honestly, I can’t think of a single entity less qualified to investigate this problem than Questar, which has consistently failed."Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville

“What I heard is that I don’t have any information, but I want to make an excuse for the person who hired us and gave us a bunch of money,” Stewart said. “… Honestly, I can’t think of a single entity less qualified to investigate this problem than Questar, which has consistently failed.”

McQueen said the state and Questar will consult with the TBI about bringing in a third-party investigator, and she pledged to ask Davidson County’s attorney general to request a TBI probe. (After the hearing, she formally made that request.)

She added that she was open to the idea of suspending accountability measures for one year and holding students, teachers, and schools harmless based on this year’s tests, if that is the will of the legislature. But state lawmakers, who are expected to wind down the 2018 session next week, would have to authorize that change since it’s now part of state law.

In contrast to Stewart, Rep. Mark White came to McQueen’s defense and urged her to dig in her heels.

“Don’t you dare consider resigning,” the Memphis Republican told the commissioner. “The easy thing to do is quit and give up when the going gets tough.”

He recounted how Tennessee was blasted in 2007 for its low academic standards and dishonesty in reporting that its students were doing well on state achievement tests when they were tanking on national tests.

“We were failing our students 10 years ago,” said White, calling the testing problems “hiccups” and hailing the state’s more rigorous standards.

“[Today] we are the fastest-improving state in the nation. We didn’t get there by pushing back and giving up and throwing our hands up and saying, ‘Oh it’s too hard.’”

A former classroom teacher and university dean, McQueen was appointed education chief in late 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam. On Tuesday, a Haslam spokeswoman said the Republican governor has “complete confidence in Commissioner McQueen.”

You can see McQueen’s presentation below: