between barack and a trade union

Top city Democrat endorses charter cap lift, but cautiously

Stuck between two party bosses and a union that boosted him, the city’s public advocate has made a best-of-both-worlds choice on the Race to the Top.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio endorsed raising the state cap on charter schools today, but he stopped short of arguing the cap should be eliminated altogether, as Governor David Paterson has done and the Obama administration has encouraged. De Blasio also amended his endorsement with a list of tweaks he’d like to see in charter school law, including many that resemble recommendations the union made last week.

Like many other local politicians who favor raising the cap, de Blasio gave no other reason for his support other than that raising the cap will boost the state’s Race to the Top application. “I strongly support raising the cap on charter schools and giving New York State the best possible opportunity to compete for much needed federal education funding,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio’s letter, which was co-signed by a majority of City Council members, did not specify how high he wants the cap lifted.

The governor has charged state lawmakers with passing a bill to raise or eliminate the cap on charter schools before next Tuesday’s Race to the Top application deadline. It’s still unclear whether the legislature will make that deadline, though legislators spent yesterday conferencing on the issue.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has kept quiet about his support for the cap lift. Yesterday he told reporters that the Assembly was “trying to put together a proposal that will make New York eligible for money,” his most elaborate comment on the issue to date.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly supports lifting the cap. Most top city Democrats, including Comptroller John Liu, have been cooler to charter schools.

Here’s the full text of de Blasio’s statement and accompanying letter:

STATEMENT FROM PUBLIC ADVOCATE
BILL DE BLASIO ON EXPANDING CHARTER SCHOOL SYSTEM

“I strongly support raising the cap on charter schools and giving New York State the best
possible opportunity to compete for much needed federal education funding.  I have
submitted the following letter to Governor Paterson and the State Legislature asking them
to adopt new measures that build upon the successes in our charter school system by
increasing efficiency, transparency, and accessibility. The proposed measures, which are
endorsed by a majority of the members of the City Council, are designed to help make
our expanding charter school system more equitable to all New Yorkers.”

January 13, 2010

Dear Governor Paterson, Members of the Senate, and Members of the Assembly:

The Federal “Race to the Top” funding presents the City and State with a unique
opportunity to examine the legacy and plan for the future of New York’s charter schools
and, more generally, the public education system.  As you consider changes to the State’s
charter law in order to qualify for the Federal “Race to the Top” funding, I recommend
that any reforms should address three fundamental principles: (1) ensure fairness and
equity between public and charter schools; (2) establish greater accountability and
transparency about charter school operations; and, most importantly, (3) guarantee that a
quality education is available to all students.

In order to realize charter schools’ full potential, and share that effect with the larger
educational system, we should address the relationship between traditional public schools
and charter schools. This means adopting school siting policies that do not permit
disparate educational settings.  For example, one of the goals of the Contract for
Excellence was to reduce class sizes, which has not been fully realized in New York City.
Accordingly, there may be instances where a traditional school has higher class sizes than
a charter school that gets housed in the same school building.  Reform proposals should
address this issue to eliminate any actual or perceived inequalities in funding and the
system.

Parents in charter schools should also have the same opportunities for involvement as
parents in our traditional public schools. Parents can be powerful allies to teachers and
principals by providing support to students to be motivated about their education.  It is
important that charter schools engage their parent base by establishing an independent
parents association or parent teacher association.  Allowing parents to fully and
meaningfully participate in educational decisions at charter schools will help lead to
increased educational outcomes and create allies in educating students.

Charter schools must also be more accountable and transparent in their operations and
management.  This would allow educators, and parents, to learn from the best practices in
the most successful charter schools, which can be used to improve educational outcomes
throughout the system. In order to accomplish this, I recommend that the state law should
empower the state and local comptroller to conduct regular audits of charter schools –
similar to the recent amendments to the education law under the 2009 mayoral control

reauthorization legislation.  These reforms will allow government and the public to more
effectively measure charter school progress, as well as determine areas for improvement.

Similarly, charter schools must be more transparent by allowing the public to utilize the
tools available through the State’s Freedom of Information Law to obtain more
comprehensive information about charter school operations.  Further, charter school
officers and employees should be subject to the same financial disclosure and conflict of
interest requirements as traditional public school employees.  These accountability and
transparency guidelines will ease the ability for state and local officials, as well as the
public, to ensure that charter schools are providing students with the additional learning
opportunities that they were designed to foster and stimulate, as well as judge that they
are doing so in a fair and equitable manner.

Charter schools have the potential to be breeding grounds for innovations that could lead
to improvements in the traditional education system.  It is important that charter schools
achieve this while operating equitably and fairly toward all students, including and
especially the neediest students -English Language Learners, children living in poverty,
such as those eligible for free lunch, and special education and homeless students. The
lack of equity, accountability, and transparency in some schools has made it difficult to
ensure that the system is providing a quality education to all students instead of just some
smaller segment of the student body. Any reform in the laws governing charter schools
should provide meaningful and consistent oversight to ensure that charter schools comply
with these requirements. Additionally, the State Education Department should address
this issue by taking steps to improve the existing charter school lottery process. This will
help to ensure that students, regardless of their academic or personal needs, have access
to charter schools and the opportunities they present.

When taken together, I believe that these recommendations will ensure that charter
schools are more efficient, accountable, and transparent, and will allow educators and
administrators to marry the best aspects of the charter school system with those of the
traditional public school system.  This will also ensure that the school system as a whole
achieves its most important goal — providing equal educational opportunities to all of its
students.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and your anticipated prompt response to
this matter.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or my Policy
Director, DeNora Getachew, at 212-669-7200.

Sincerely,

Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate for the City of New York
Gale A. Brewer, 6th Council District
Fernando Cabrera, 14th Council District
Margaret Chin, 1st Council District
Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., 27th Council District
Elizabeth Crowley, 30th Council District
Erik Martin Dilan, 37 Council District
Daniel Dromm, 25th Council District
Mathieu Eugene, 40th Council District
Julissa Ferreras, 21st Council District
Helen D. Foster, 16th Council District
Vincent J. Gentile, 43rd Council District
Letitia James, 35th Council District
Karen Koslowitz, 29th Council District
Bradford Lander, 39th Council District
Jessica S. Lappin, 5th Council District
Stephen Levin, 33rd Council District
Melissa Mark-Viverito, 8th Council District
Rosie Mendez, 2nd Council District
Annabel Palma, 18th Council District
Domenic M. Recchia, Jr., 47th Council District
Diana Reyna, 34th Council District
Joel Rivera, 15th Council District
James Sanders, Jr., 31st Council District
Larry B. Seabrook, 12th Council District
James Vacca, 13th Council District
Jumaane Williams, 45th Council District

Cc: Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City Mayor
Chancellor Joel Klein, New York City Department of Education

Busing Ban

As school districts push for integration, decades-old federal rule could thwart them

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post
Several districts across the country want to use federal money to pay for school buses as part of their desegregation plans. A federal spending restriction could get in the way.

In Florida, officials plan to use federal money to shuttle students across vast Miami-Dade County to new science-themed magnet programs in a bid to desegregate several schools.

In South Carolina, a tiny district west of Myrtle Beach intends to spend federal funds on free busing for families who enroll at two predominantly black schools, hoping that will draw in white and Hispanic students.

And in New York, state officials want to deploy federal school-improvement money to help integrate struggling schools, believing that may be the secret to their rebirth.

But each of these fledgling integration efforts — and similar ones across the country — could be imperiled by obscure budget provisions written during the anti-busing backlash of the 1970s, which prohibit using federal funding for student transportation aimed at racial desegregation. The rules have been embedded in every education spending bill since at least 1974, as Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia pointed out in September when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the provisions from the latest appropriations bill.

The rules are “a relic of an ugly history when states and school districts across the nation resisted meaningful integration,” said Scott, the top Democrat on the House education committee, during a floor speech where he called the persistence of the rules “morally reprehensible.”

After Scott’s amendment to eliminate the provisions was blocked, advocates are now working behind the scenes to convince members of the Senate from both parties to strike the rules from the latest spending bill during negotiations. More than 40 integration advocates and experts have signed onto a letter to lawmakers calling for the anti-busing language to be removed, and members of that coalition plan to meet with lawmakers in the coming days.

Advocates are especially worried about funding for magnet programs, like those in Miami and the South Carolina district, which rely on special science or art offerings or rigorous academic courses to draw students of different races into the same school — a choice-based approach that has become the primary way districts now pursue desegregation.

This is the first year districts that receive federal magnet-school grants are allowed to spend some of that money on transportation, after Congress changed the rules as part of its education-law overhaul in 2015. Among the 32 districts that received a total of nearly $92 million in magnet grants this year, at least six plan to use some of that money for transportation, according to their applications.

Now, just as those funds are about to flow to busing — which many families insist upon before they will enroll their children in magnet schools across town — the decades-old spending restriction could cut them off, advocates warn.

That could create a major problem for districts like Miami-Dade County.

It hopes to attract students from across the district to three heavily black and Hispanic schools by launching magnet programs that focus on zoology, cybersecurity, and mobile-app development, according to its application. To pull that off, it requested $245,000 for buses next year since, as the application notes, the “most limiting factor” for many families is “the cost associated with transporting their child to the magnet school.”

The district in Lake City, South Carolina wants to pull new families from different neighborhoods into an elementary school and a middle school that suffer from sagging enrollment and intense poverty. Previous recruitment efforts that didn’t provide transportation amounted to “failed attempts,” the district said in its application.

However, if the anti-busing provisions are not removed from the next federal spending bill, they would cancel out the new rule allowing those districts to spend some of their magnet money on transportation (though districts could still use local funds to fill in the gap). As such, magnet-school representatives are pushing hard for lawmakers to remove the provisions during budget negotiations.

“We’re hoping this doesn’t see the light of day,” said John Laughner, legislative and communications manager at Magnet Schools of America, an association of magnets from across the country. He plans to discuss the issue with lawmakers next week.

Beyond magnet schools, other desegregation efforts could be undercut by the anti-busing provision, which was included in a spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that the House approved and one the Senate has yet to vote on.

At least one state — New York — listed socioeconomic and racial integration among the ways it could intervene in low-performing schools under the new federal education law. In addition, New York officials announced a grant program this week where up to 30 districts will receive federal money to develop integration plans.

Advocates fear the anti-busing rule could disrupt any of those plans that require transportation and aim to reduce racial segregation. (New York education officials said they did not want to speculate on the impact of a spending bill that hasn’t been approved.)

A Democratic Congressional aide who has studied the issue said the provision could even block federal funding for planning or public outreach around desegregation programs that involve busing, not just busing itself.

Either way, advocates say the provision could dissuade districts from using the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, to pursue integration — even though research suggests that student achievement on tests and other measures improve when they attend less segregated schools.

“We shouldn’t have this,” said Philip Tegeler, a member of the National Coalition on School Diversity, which is leading the charge to remove the restriction. He added that the provision stemmed from mandatory desegregation busing of an earlier era: “It’s clearly an anachronism that doesn’t really fit any more with what states and districts are doing voluntarily.”

A U.S. education department spokeswoman said Secretary Betsy DeVos would be bound to enforce any funding prohibitions that Congress approves, though she noted that state and local funds are not subject to the same restrictions.

Negotiators from the House and Senate must still agree on a single spending bill, which would go before the full Congress for a vote. Until then, lawmakers have voted to temporarily extend 2017 spending levels through December. It’s possible Congress will pass another extension then, meaning a final deal — and a decision on the anti-busing language — may not arrive until early next year.

In the meantime, advocates are pressing lawmakers like Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee who helped craft ESSA, with the argument that the anti-busing provision limits the flexibility and local control the law was meant to provide districts.

Margaret Atkinson, a spokeswoman for the senator, would not say whether he is open to removing the provision, but said he would continue working to ensure ESSA “is implemented as Congress intended.”

The anti-busing language — found in two sections of the current appropriation bills — prohibits using federal funds for transportation “to overcome racial imbalance” or “to carry out a plan of racial desegregation,” or forcing students to attend any school other than the one closest to home. (A separate education law contains a similar restriction, but ESSA exempted magnet schools from it.) The provisions emerged in the early 1970s, just after the Supreme Court ruled that busing students to schools outside their own racially isolated neighborhoods was an appropriate tool for school desegregation.

At the time, many white parents raged against what they called “forced busing.” In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed at least one law annually from 1966 to 1977 meant to curb school integration, according to historian Jason Sokol, and in 1974 the full Congress voted in favor of an anti-busing amendment to an education bill. The restrictions in the current spending bills appear to have originated around the same time.

The attacks on busing reflect how crucial free transportation is to school desegregation, said Erica Frankenberg, a professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies segregation. Busing was included in guidelines outlining how districts should comply with desegregation requirements in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and later upheld by the Supreme Court, she pointed out.

More recently, studies have shown that non-white parents are more likely to opt into magnet schools when they provide transportation, and that magnets that don’t offer busing are more likely to enroll students of a single race, Frankenberg said. Yet, many politicians remain reluctant to endorse busing for desegregation — which may reflect a deeper ambivalence, she added.

Resistance to busing, she said, “is a very politically acceptable way to be opposed to integration.”

Yes and No

In a first, New York officials reject 2 proposed charter schools, but sign off on 5 for New York City

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Charter-school advocates staged a rally outside the state capitol building 2015.

New York’s top education policymakers voted Monday to approve five new charter schools in New York City – but, for the first time, rejected two proposed charters.

The moves by the state Board of Regents sent a mixed message on charter schools. While the Regents have approved more this year than at any point since 2013, the rejections suggest they won’t rubber stamp applications – even those, like the two shot down Monday, that have earned the state education department’s blessing.

Four of the approved schools will be based in the Bronx, and one in Staten Island. (Technically, Monday’s vote is preliminary and the board must finalize its decision at Tuesday’s full-board meeting.)

A new charter high school on Staten Island plans to enroll a significant number of students with disabilities — an area of great need in a borough where a quarter of students have some disability. Students will have the opportunity to graduate with as many as 60 college credits through a partnership with St. John’s University.

The Bronx charters include a new elementary school that will serve high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, an all-boys middle school inspired by an Obama-era program aimed at uplifting young men of color, and a high school for students who have fallen behind academically.

The final Bronx school is KIPP Freedom, slated to open in 2018, which will mark the first time the national network has opened a new school in New York City in six years.

“The community has tremendous support for the charter,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa about KIPP, who suggested the school could even help reduce segregation if sited in the right location.

The two schools the board rejected would have been located in districts in Mount Vernon, in Westchester County, and Homer, in upstate New York.

Board members raised concerns about the applications, including that their curriculums were not very innovative. They also worried that the schools would drain resources from their surrounding districts, potentially forcing them to cut extracurricular programs from traditional schools.

Regent Judith Johnson, who represents the Mount Vernon district, expressed concern that the school only planned to serve students grades 6-8, while the district is moving towards a model that keeps children in the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. She suggested waiting to see how the district’s efforts pan out.

“I would suggest this is premature,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to support this at this time.”

The vote comes as top state officials have been skeptical of charter schools and policies regulating them.

At past meetings, Regents have wondered aloud whether the schools are serving their fair share of high-needs students. And Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have been on a warpath against a new policy that will allow some charter schools to certify their own teachers.

However, those concerns have not stopped the Regents from approving new charter schools. During a low point for approvals in 2015, when the state approved only four charters, few applications made it past the education department’s vetting process and to the board for final approval.

Since then, there has been a steady uptick in approvals. The board signed off on seven new schools last year, and is set to approve at least eight this year. (The board, which typically accepts applications in two or three rounds each year, approved three schools earlier this year.)

State education department officials on Monday also presented new ways to evaluate charter schools and decide whether they should remain open, based on proposals that the Board of Regents floated last month.

The additions to the state’s “Charter School Performance Framework” could include measures of student chronic absenteeism, the schools’ suspension rates, and the results of student and staff surveys. In previous meetings, Regents have also suggested surveying families who decide to leave charter schools.

Charter schools are already required to meet certain enrollment and retention targets, or to make “good faith efforts” to reach them. The state also considers the quality of a school’s curriculum and its outreach to families.

At Monday’s meeting, some Regents proposed adding yet another measure: whether charter schools are sharing innovative practices with the district schools.

“If the original intent [of charter schools] was to create opportunity for innovation,” said Regent Johnson, “we have to decide now, after those twenty plus years, did that happen?”