budget breakdown

Bloomberg's proposed layoffs would slash arts education

City Councilman Robert Jackson speaks at a protest against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall.
City Councilmember Robert Jackson speaks at a protest against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall.

Roughly 350 arts specialists will be among the 4,000 teacher layoffs next year if the City Council signs onto Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget, according to a report released today by an arts education advocacy group.

Building on 135 arts positions eliminated this school year, the layoffs would amount to a 20 percent reduction in the number of arts teachers working in city schools in just the last three years.

Eight City Council members and dozens of angry parents came to City Hall today to announce the report, prepared by the Center for Arts Education, and to protest the potential cuts.

Gretchen Mergenthaler, whose eight-year-old son Declan attends P.S. 98 in Inwood, said that he is offered either art or music once each week, but no dance or theater.

“We have a gorgeous auditorium that we don’t even use,” Mergenthaler said. “This is a picture of P.S. 98 before any budget cuts. Can you imagine it after?”

Today’s report is an analysis of data that the city has been releasing since it overhauled the way arts funding is allotted to schools.

The overhaul gave principals the freedom to determine their own arts spending, but required that they report their decisions in more detail than had happened previously. The idea was that reporting requirements would serve as a way to hold principals accountable for investing sufficiently in the arts.

“We’re going to help them,” CAE director Richard Kessler said in 2007, adding, “And hold their feet to the fire.”

Kessler was vocal in his criticism of the changes then, which prompted the Center for Arts Education to move from working with schools to evaluating the city’s arts programs.

The city has maintained that the changes have not hurt the quality of their arts offerings.

In a statement, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that in the last eight years, city schools have become models for arts instruction and the number of students receiving arts instruction has increased.

“So even with impending layoffs, I am confident we will be able to build on the significant progress we have made revitalizing arts in the schools,” he said.

But today’s report paints a dismal picture of what has happened since. In addition to losses in the number of arts teachers, funding for art supplies also dropped to about $2 per student in the 2009-10 school year.

“What can you buy with two dollars? A box of chalk? A couple of paintbrushes?” said Doug Israel, the director of research and policy at the Center for Arts Education. “Especially here in New York City, it’s surprising and shocking that this would occur.”

During the rally, Council Member Robert Jackson, who chairs the council’s education committee, held a paper microphone and a sad-face mask up to his face and pretended to cry. “I need my programs in art and music and theater!” he said.

Jackson, whose daughter is a dancer, said, “If children couldn’t sing, dance, play instruments, they’d be crying.”

Other parents said that’s already happening. Carlton Curry, whose seven-year-old daughter Carleta attends P.S. 126 in the Bronx, said that cultural nights at his school have had to be rescheduled because of problems getting supplies.

After the rally, Jackson said that he still believed that it was possible to fend off the cuts if elected officials and parents keep the pressure on the mayor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

“I think it’s realistic, it’s possible, if the parties are willing to be flexible,” Jackson said. “The game plan is to continue the press conferences, the rallies, the phone calls, all the things necessary to communicate how important this is.”

Center for Arts Education Report, 6/9/11//

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.