Game on

Nixon accuses Cuomo of underfunding schools, calling his rationale ‘just one big excuse’

PHOTO: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

For her first Albany appearance as a gubernatorial candidate, Cynthia Nixon chose to attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo on school funding answering any questions about how deeply her education advocacy experience is shaping her campaign.

The “Sex and the City” actress held a press conference on Monday with the Alliance for Quality Education, an education advocacy group that has counted Nixon as a spokesperson for 16 years. The union-backed group pushes for more school funding in Albany.

During Monday’s appearance, Nixon accused the governor of underfunding poor schools, dismissed his latest proposal to make the system more fair as a “stall tactic” and compared him to President Donald Trump.

“Governor Cuomo’s entire argument on school funding is just one big excuse to ignore the lives of students who are black or brown or working-class,” Nixon said. “The Cuomo budget does not value the lives of the majority of New York’s children.”

While Nixon dismissed Cuomo’s education spending proposal, which would increase school aid by $769 million, she embraced the proposal put forward by the Democratic-led Assembly. The Assembly’s budget calls for a $1.5 billion boost to education spending.

Nixon’s comments are part of a larger battle over school funding that has been brewing in New York State for years. Advocates from groups such as Alliance for Quality Education, including Nixon, have argued that New York schools are owed billions of dollars under a school funding lawsuit settled in 2006.

The governor’s office has shot back, saying that the level of funding was meant to be a goal instead of a legally binding amount. Officials from the governor’s office also noted that Cuomo has overseen a 35 percent hike in education spending since 2012.

In addition to talking about the overall level of education spending, Nixon spotlighted spending inequality at Monday’s press conference, arguing that the state’s richer, whiter, districts pull up the state’s average spending on schools, while the state’s poorest schools are still suffering from underfunding.

This year, the governor’s budget includes a provision that would allow state officials to review and approve school budgets from certain school districts to ensure that enough money is flowing to the poorest schools. (Officials from the governor’s office also noted that the state’s funding formula provides more money to the poorest schools.)

When asked about the governor’s desire to account for where every education dollar goes, Nixon called it a “classic stall tactic” that the governor is using because he “doesn’t want to fund anything.”

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires a school-by-school breakdown of education spending, but Cuomo’s budget would take the requirement a step further and allow state officials to approve budgets.

Nixon’s appearance on Monday is in line with years of her activism on public school funding and her history with the Alliance for Quality Education. Nixon, who talked about being a proud public school student and parent in her campaign video, has said that Cuomo’s comments on school funding were the final straw that thrust her into the gubernatorial race, according to a Nixon advisor quoted in the New York Times.

She began traveling to Albany to fight for school funding long before her gubernatorial bid, noted an AQE member at Monday’s press conference. And in January, she sent a joint statement with the Alliance for Quality Education bashing the amount of education spending in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget.

On Monday, Nixon also dipped her toe into a burgeoning national school safety conversation, which has come to the fore after the tragic shooting of 17 students in Florida. Senate Republicans proposed a series of school safety reforms, including providing funds to allow schools to purchase armed guards.

Nixon seemed to reject putting resources into security measures, instead of prioritizing educational resources such as counselors, books, and other technology.

“Why should we accept more police in our schools, making students feel like criminals, instead of guidance counselors that can help them work out problems?” Nixon said. “We need more smart boards, not more metal detectors.”

And in a sign that Nixon won’t shy away from heated rhetoric, she even tied the governor’s actions on school spending to the tactics employed by the U.S. president.

“His budgets bully our children and our families by shortchanging them, by boxing them in, by denying them the opportunities they are owed,” she said. “It reminds me of the behavior we see from Donald Trump every day.”

hot off the presses

A silver medal for Detroit pre-K. Now where are the kids?

PHOTO: Getty Images

Detroit has earned a silver rating, the second-highest possible, in a national ranking of urban preschool programs published Wednesday. But the report by the advocacy group CityHealth also says that too few eligible 4-year-olds are enrolled.

CityHealth, a foundation-funded organization that rates America’s largest urban centers based on their public policies, looked at how big cities stack up in offering preschool programs in a report published Wednesday.

Researchers at the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University conducted the study and compiled the report.

Following standards set by the largest state-funded pre-K organization, the Great Start Readiness Program, Detroit requires teachers in state preschool to have at least a bachelor’s degree, limits class sizes, and requires health screenings of children.

Those are some of the hallmarks of a high-quality program, according to CityHealth.

Only eight of the 40 cities whose policies were reviewed earned a silver rating, and only five earned the top gold rating. A handful of cities — Indianapolis and Phoenix, Arizona, among them — were far behind, with low enrollment and few or none of CityHealth’s model policies in place.

Still, the gap in Detroit’s pre-K system is a big one. The city has far fewer pre-K seats than it reportedly needs. That’s the case in many of America’s largest cities, according to CityHealth. In nearly half of the cities studied, pre-K programs reached less than one-third of the cities’ pre-schoolers.

The lack of preschool slots is one reason advocates from Michigan’s largest cities are pushing lawmakers to put early childhood on the agenda in Lansing. And it’s part of why Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has gotten behind the idea of a expanded pre-K system for Detroit.

Read the full report here:

School Funding 101

Report: Michigan has biggest school funding decline in nation

How’s this for a grim school funding statistic: A new report out Wednesday says total revenue for Michigan schools declined 30 percent from 2002 to 2015 — the largest decline for any state over the past quarter century.

The statistic, adjusted for inflation, is among findings of a report by researchers at Michigan State University that reviews school funding and recommends how the state can improve.

“Michigan has tried to improve schools on the cheap, focusing on more accountability and school choice,” wrote David Arsen, lead author and professor of education policy. “To make those policies effective, they have to be matched with adequate funding. We have been kidding ourselves to think we can move forward while cutting funding for schools.”

Co-authors are Tanner Delpier and Jesse Nagel, MSU doctoral students.

Here are a few of the highlights in the report — which is aimed at spurring public discussion of how to improve school funding in the state. The data were adjusted for inflation:

  • Dead last: Where Michigan ranks in total education revenue growth since the mid-90s, when the state’s current school funding formula was developed.
  • 60 percent: How much funding for at-risk students has declined since 2001.
  • 22 percent: How much per-pupil revenue declined from 2002 to 2015.

 The report comes about a year after the bipartisan School Finance Research Collaborative released a comprehensive set of recommendations for fixing the school funding system in Michigan. The MSU report provides a review of that report and adopts many of its recommendations.

It also comes after a December lame-duck legislative session in Michigan that ended with lawmakers voting to shift some funding from the state School Aid Fund to other priorities, such as road repairs and environmental cleanups.

Officials from the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education, a group that represents educators in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, said the MSU report should be a wake-up call for lawmakers. They said it confirms that Michigan’s K-12 funding is in crisis.

“Lawmakers need to stop hiding behind talking points that claim they are investing in our schools when the reality is our funding hasn’t even kept up with the rate of inflation, let alone the increased cost of the services we are being asked to provide our students,” said George Heitsch, president of the alliance and superintendent of Farmington Public Schools. “When you see the numbers from this report showing the drastic funding cuts that have been forced on our schools in recent years, it should be no wonder why our state ranks at the bottom in reading and math proficiency. This simply has to change because our students deserve better.”

Read the full report for more information and recommendations: