equity questions

New York City schools with greatest share of low-income students lag in funding, analysis finds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

New York spends more money per student than any other state in the country, but those dollars are not distributed proportionately to the highest-need schools, according to a new analysis released Monday.

In New York City, schools with the greatest share of low-income students do receive slightly more funding. But according to Education Trust-New York, an advocacy organization that conducted the analysis, the funding difference is still not equitable given the size of the gaps between schools with the highest and lowest levels of students growing up in poverty. This discrepancy is potentially critical, as research has found that increased school spending can lead to a noticeable uptick in student learning.

City elementary and middle schools that serve a large share of students from low-income families receive 15 percent more funding on average than schools with fewer economically disadvantaged students do. Needy high schools receive 22 percent more funding.

And in other large school districts in the state, the funding differentials are narrow to non-existent. High-need elementary and middle schools in Buffalo, for example, receive only 4 percent more funding than low-need schools do, and in Yonkers, needy schools actually received slightly less funding than those with a lower share of the city’s low-income students. (The report includes an interactive database that shows how most city schools are funded.)

PHOTO: Ed Trust
Spending per student among New York’s largest school districts.

In New York City, the neediest 25 percent of elementary and middle schools serve a student population where 96 percent of students come from low-income families on average. At the lowest-need schools, by contrast, 45 percent of students are low-income. That means despite having more than twice as many low-income students, highest-need schools receive just 15 percent more funding, according to the analysis.

“There should be significantly more funding in those highest-need schools based on that differential,” said Ian Rosenblum, Education Trust-New York’s executive director. The analysis does not spell out how much more money needy schools should receive; Rosenblum said the goal is to spark discussions in local communities about that question.

The findings are based on new data released last month under a new state law that requires certain districts to reveal details about how much money each of their schools spends per student and the broad strokes of how this money is allocated. (Seventy-six out of 733 districts statewide provided the information that is the basis of this analysis.)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the prompt disclosure of that data a priority during the last budget cycle (even though it would have been disclosed eventually under federal law). At a press conference in March, he said, “We have an education inequality problem in this state.”

New York City distributes some of its school funding through a formula that is designed to give more financial support to schools with greater shares of students with disabilities, who are English learners, or who are struggling academically. But despite some efforts to infuse schools with more resources, the formula has not been fully implemented.

The analysis also found that high-need schools tend to have less experienced teachers. At city schools with the lowest levels of poverty, 15 percent of teachers have less than three years of experience. That number jumps to 23 percent at high-poverty elementary and middle schools and to 26 percent at needy high schools.

A department spokesman, Doug Cohen, said that the analysis assumes the costs associated with programs such as additional literacy coaches or extra social services are evenly distributed across all schools when they are actually targeted at needy schools. And he said the analysis leaves out $600 million in federal Title I money, which is targeted at low-income schools.

However, Cohen also noted that the city is owed $1.2 billion for education by the state, money that could go toward fully funding the formula, which is designed to provide extra financial supports for the neediest schools.

“The data shows that we spend more money at high-needs schools,” Cohen said in a statement. “We’ll continue to invest in students and schools that need it the most, and make funding decisions through an equity lens.”

If you’re curious about how your school stacks up, check out the interactive database that shows how much funding each school receives, how each spends its money, how needy it is, how much experience teachers have, and more.

This story has been updated with an additional response from the city’s education department.

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.

Innovation zone

Two more Denver schools win additional freedom from district rules

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki/Chalkbeat
Alex Magaña, then principal at Grant Beacon Middle School, greeted students as they moved between classes in 2015.

Two more Denver schools this week won more flexibility in how they spend their money and time. The schools will create a new “innovation zone,” bringing the district’s number of quasi-autonomous zones to three.

The Denver school board on Thursday unanimously approved the schools’ application to operate more independently from district rules, starting in January.

The new zone will include Grant Beacon Middle School in south Denver and Kepner Beacon Middle School in southwest Denver. The two schools are high-performing by the district’s standards and follow a model that allows students to learn at their own pace.

With just two schools, the zone will be the district’s smallest, though Beacon leaders have signaled their intent to compete to open a third school in the growing Stapleton neighborhood, where the district has said it will need more capacity. The district’s other two innovation zones have four and five schools each.

Schools in zones are still district schools, but they can opt out of paying for certain district services and instead spend that money on things that meet their specific needs, such as additional teachers or aides. Zones can also form nonprofit organizations with their own boards of directors that provide academic and operational oversight, and help raise extra dollars to support the schools.

The new zone, called the Beacon Schools Network Innovation Zone, will have a five-member board of directors that includes one current parent, two former parents, and two community members whose professional work is related to education.

The zone will also have a teacher council and a parent council that will provide feedback to its board but whose members won’t be able to vote on decisions.

Some Denver school board members questioned the makeup of the zone’s board.

“I’m wondering about what kinds of steps you’re going to take to ensure there is a greater representation of people who live and reside in southwest Denver,” where Kepner Beacon is located, asked school board member Angela Cobián, who represents the region. She also asked about a greater representation of current parents on the board.

Alex Magaña, who serves as executive principal over the Beacon schools and will lead the new zone, said he expects the board to expand to seven members within a year. He also said the parent council will play a key role even if its members can’t vote.

“The parent council is a strong influence,” he said. “If the parent council is not happy, that’s going to be impacting both of the schools. I don’t want to undersell that.”

Other Denver school board members questioned the zone’s finances and how dependent it would be on fundraising. A district summary of the zone’s application notes that the zone’s budget relies on $1.68 million in foundation revenue over the next 5½ years.

Magaña said the zone would eventually seek to expand to four schools, which would make it more financially stable. As for philanthropic dollars, he said the zone would work to ensure any loss of revenue doesn’t hurt the schools’ unique programs or enrichment.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it won’t impact the schools,” he said.

Ultimately, Denver school board members said they have confidence in the Beacon model and look forward to seeing what its leaders do with their increased autonomy.