public affairs (updated. a lot)

Live-blogging the PEP: 24 "turnaround" closures on the agenda

We’re stationed right now at the Prospect Heights Campus in Brooklyn, where the Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote tonight on two dozen school closure proposals.

It’s not the usual venue for a contentious panel meeting — the longest meetings have all been held at Brooklyn Technical High School — but the closures are also not the usual type.

Instead of phasing out the schools and slowly opening new ones, the city is proposing to close the schools at the end of the year and reopen them immediately according to a federally prescribed school improvement strategy known as “turnaround.” Under the city’s proposals, which have elicited intense opposition, the schools would get new names, new teachers, and, often, new principals.

For an overview of the controversial policy at the heart of tonight’s meeting, check out our two-part primer. And stay tuned for up-to-the-minute coverage of the panel meeting, which Chancellor Dennis Walcott warned earlier today could go late into the night.

11:58 p.m. And it’s over: All of the turnaround closure votes are done and have passed. Between February and today, the panel has approved 44 school closures to begin or take place this summer — far more than in any previous year.

The panel still has to vote on 17 proposals about school space usage, 10 involving charter schools. They are proceeding quickly through the votes.

11:54 p.m. A teacher from John Dewey High School has broken out in tears behind reporters.

According to the thin crowd of teachers who shout the tally after each vote, those who vote yes are “puppets” and those who cast no votes are “heroes.”

11:48 p.m. Eight to four is the pattern of the night. The seven mayoral appointees who are present tonight are voting for each turnaround plan, as is the Staten Island borough president’s appointee, Diane Peruggia. The four other borough presidents’ appointees are voting against each proposal, in a reprise of the vote count from school closure hearings in February and last year.

One teacher has taken to shouting, “Let’s count … is it eight?” each time a vote is tallied. Other audience members are joining in the chorus.

11:46 p.m. The voting has begun. The panel members dispatch with Queens representative Dmytro Fedkowskyj’s resolution against turnaround quickly, voting 8-4 against it.

11:41 p.m. Judy Bergtraum, a recent mayoral appointee, explains that she will vote for the turnaround proposals. The schools have been struggling “for many years,” she says, adding, “I just see this as an opportunity for change.” (A Manhattan high school named for Bergtraum’s father, Murry, isn’t on the turnaround list, but it easily could be: In recent years, it has experienced overcrowding, an influx of high-needs students, and a new principal who has received only mixed reviews.)

Another mayoral appointee, Gitte Peng, says she would like to hear the Department of Education offer a plan to soothe “the real confusion out there” at some of the schools on the turnaround list. But she indicates that she, too, will vote for the proposals.

11:35 p.m. Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan raises questions about one of the schools removed from the turnaround roster earlier today. Grover Cleveland High School is virtually identical in many ways to other schools on the list, especially Long Island City High School, Sullivan argues. But Long Island City is still on the agenda tonight.

Cleveland is the alma mater of Catherine Nolan, the State Assembly’s education committee chair, and murmurs from the winnowing audience suggest that some suspect politics came into play when the department decided which schools to save.

But Shael Polakow-Suransky explains that the schools post some very different data points. At Long Island City, for example, only 11 percent of parents responding to a city survey said the school is doing well, he said. (Long Island City had a massive scheduling debacle earlier this year, and the department is replacing the principal it installed just last year.)

11:21 p.m. More than an hour into panel discussions, Brooklyn representative Gbubemi Okotieuro brings up the “disruptive” leadership change at John Dewey High School earlier this spring. The city replaced longtime leader Barry Fried in March, and even teachers who said he had been an ineffective leader said the timing was not ideal for sending the school in the right direction.

The panel has been debating turnaround for over an hour, with conversation growing pointed at times.

11:17 p.m. Now panel members are fighting among themselves. Mayoral appointee Jeff Kay is incredulous that anyone would want to decline the federal funds that turnaround could bring. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative who spent much of the last few days poring over hundreds of pages of city documents about the turnaround plans, accuses Kay of being uninformed.

11:14 p.m. After five hours of testimony and discussion, Jeff Kay, a mayoral appointee to the panel, has asked for clarification about just what turnaround is, anyway. (He should have read our primer.) Marc Sternberg, a top Department of Education official, is unfazed. But he is also tired: “I’ve already said some of this,” Sternberg begins.

11:06 p.m. The newest panel member, Joan Correale, who rejoined the panel for this meeting, says she has experience with a process something like turnaround from when her daughter’s Bronx high school was overhauled. The process led to principal turnover, but in the end the school was a better place, she says.

10:58 p.m. Wilfredo Pagan, the Bronx borough president’s appointee to the panel, says he will side with his borough appointee compatriots and support the resolution opposing turnaround. “I dont want to be part of a process that’s going to continue up break down our system,” he says.

Pagan, resolution sponsor Dmytro Fedkowskyj, and Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan typically vote against mayoral proposals, so this is no real surprise.

10:46 p.m. Now Shael Polakow-Suransky has the floor. “There’s a real disjuncture between what teachers are saying and what kids and parents are saying” about satisfaction with the turnaround schools, he says.

For all of the teachers who want things to stay the way they are at their schools, Polakow-Suransky says, there are “hundreds” who are not satisfied and are looking forward to changes.

10:40 p.m. For most of the night, Dmytro Fedkowskyj has played the role of Manhattan appointee Patrick Sullivan, usually the biggest gadfly on the panel. But Sullivan has begun to assert himself now. He says he has read the city’s applications for the federal School Improvement Grants — 800 pages, which were delivered to him earlier this week under the mandate that he not disclose their contents, he told GothamSchools on Wednesday — and that the city should not devise school policies just to win the funds. “This is policy by the Obama administration,” he said.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, another Department of Education deputy chancellor, says Sullivan is dead wrong. “What will govern the process is not the federal guidelines, but 18-D,” he said, referring to a clause in the city’s contract with the teachers union.

The remaining teachers in the audience applaud for Sullivan when he finishes his questioning.

10:23 p.m. Chancellor Dennis Walcott and one of his top deputies, Marc Sternberg, say turnaround isn’t actually a new thing — it was used before in the city but the scale that’s being proposed tonight is much larger. Any school closure where phase-out doesn’t happen has followed the turnaround rules: They get new names and new principals and hire many of the teachers who worked in the old school. Another deputy chancellor, David Weiner, headed a turnaround effort — Brooklyn’s P.S. 314 was replaced with P.S. 503 — before leaving briefly to work in Philadelphia.

10:18 p.m. Now panel members are discussing the agenda items among themselves. As expected, Dmytro Fedkowskyj is leading a charge against turnaround. But Department of Education officials are fending off critiques.

Marc Sternberg, a deputy chancellor, says there is misinformation circulating about what will happen at the schools. August Martin High School, for example, will have small learning communities, and at least one of them will maintain the career training programs that current exist there, he said. He also said — as city officials have said repeatedly — that the department is not requiring turnaround schools to rehire a certain percentage of their teachers.

“Our directive is to hire the best possible staff that they can,” he said. He adds, “Anyone who turns away a qualified teacher is making a mistake.”

10:08 p.m. Not so fast! Before the public comment period ends, there are a couple of stragglers. PEP regular Photon is here, clad in her purple superhero suit and peddling her educational services. She was the last person on the public sign-up sheet, but a parent who arrived late and didn’t sign up is allowed to speak last — and uses the time to oppose turnaround.

9:56 p.m. The panel’s moderator is rattling off numbers of people who signed up to speak. But there are almost no takers — many people have gone home, and the public comment period is almost over. Next up, the panel members will discuss the turnaround proposals among themselves. That could take a while: Queens appointee Dmytro Fedkowskyj has proposed a resolution against the closure process and is determined to win support from other panel members.

9:42 p.m. Now Richmond Hill High School student Aleana Mohammed says her teachers are like surrogate parents. “They’ve poured their heart out for us, and for what? For nothing?” she asks. Dozens of Richmond Hill teachers could lose their positions under the city’s turnaround guidelines, according to the Coalition for Educational Justice, which opposes the turnaround plans.

9:32 p.m. After a five minute break, public comment has resumed. A contingent of people from Queens’ Richmond Hill High School is up next. First, a teacher who says that she and many colleagues are often at work by 6 a.m. brings up the fact that told the school it would get three years to improve under a less aggressive school improvement strategy. “You gave us three years — then you took them back,” she said.

She’s followed by a colleague, Spanish teacher Sally Shababa, who graduated from the school in 1986. Shababa says she doesn’t know if she can handle going to work in the morning if the panel approves the school’s turnaround plan.

9:13 p.m. Lehman High School’s mascot, a lion, is made for punning. A teacher has arrived dressed as the Lehman Lion and testifies, “The people at the DOE are ly-on.” (Lie-n? Lyin? The teacher’s point was clear.)

Another Lehman teacher, carrying a small stuffed lion, referred to the crowds of Success Charter Network supporters, saying, “All the parents from the Success school here are talking about choice. We’ve made OUR choice.”

8:59 p.m. The Prospect Heights auditorium has cleared out by at least half, and as many speaker slots are going unclaimed.

8:52 p.m. A teacher from John Dewey High School holds up a sign comparing Dewey’s college readiness rate, as measured by a new state data point, against other that of other schools on the turnaround list. The graphic on the poster came from a GothamSchools story about the schools’ disparate readiness rates.

Dewey was one of four high schools originally proposed for turnaround that met or exceeded the city’s 21 percent average college readiness rate. Two of those schools have since been removed from the turnaround roster, leaving just Dewey and William Cullen Bryant High School, former chancellor Joel Klein’s alma mater.

8:40 p.m. Turnaround talk retakes center stage after the charter schools’ interlude. A parent from Automotive High School, which Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said had become a “warehouse” for high-needs students, is defending teachers there. They have really supported the students, the parent says — and the changes at the school have affected them psychologically.

8:35 p.m. Their testimony delivered, supporters of Democracy Prep charter schools prepare to board a bus to return to Harlem. After all, tomorrow is a school day — and the last day of state math exams. But the network’s superintendent, Seth Andrew, doesn’t let them depart without a pep talk.

“Democracy is about choice. Democracy is about voice,” Andrew says, and the parents echo his words. “Thank you for coming.”

8:17 p.m. Charter school supporters are starting to be called to speak. A teacher from a Bronx Success Academy school that is slated to get its space arrangement for next year finalized tonight begins to speak and elicits a response from the audience, which begins to shout, “The people united will never be defeated.”

A few minutes later, a Democracy Prep student tells the panel she wants more space for her school. A whirlwind of foam hands, the prop that Democracy Prep supporters brought, goes up.

8:13 p.m. The string of student speakers continues with Diana Rodriguez, the Grover Cleveland High School student who has emerged as a leader at her school. She gets a standing ovation.

8:02 p.m. There’s an uproar when a student from Lehman High School is told he’s used up his allotted two minutes of speaking time. “I’m the first student here to speak!” he protests.

7:57 p.m. As we head into the third hour of the turnaround hearing, a correction: There are 146 people signed up to speak tonight, not 164. That’s still more than the number of people who signed up to speak at February’s meeting.

7:55 p.m. State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the Assembly’s education committee, is testifying. She is a graduate of Grover Cleveland High School, which was removed from the turnaround list this morning, and says she is happy that her alma mater will remain unchanged. “But so many here are still experiencing all that anxiety,” she says.

After a spirited speech defending the 24 schools that remain on the turnaround roster, Nolan offers another shout-out to her own school. “Thank you, Grover Cleveland — we love you!” she says before ceding the microphone.

7:35 p.m. Kevin Kearns is one of just 10 teachers from Lehman High School who made the trek from the Bronx to Brooklyn. Earlier, he explained why: “We already know the outcome.” Now he is describing his school’s path to turnaround, explaining that the principal who was removed last year had “brought us from a B to an F.”

7:28 p.m. A teacher from John Adams High School, one of seven large Queens schools slated for turnaround, points out that her school has “Small Learning Communities” already — and one of them serves students who are overage and under-credited. Those are the same students who attend Bushwick Community High School, which the city removed from the turnaround list today under pressure from state officials and politicians to adopt different accountability metrics for transfer high schools.

7:21 p.m. Maria Ortega, the principal of J.H.S. 166 George Gershwin, says the city set her school up to fail — a familiar refrain at school closure hearings.

An interesting tidbit about the school, located in East New York: It had the fewest people weigh in on the department’s plan during a round of feedback earlier this month. Just 20 people representing the 445-student middle school commented at its public hearing.

At Queens’ Richmond Hill High School, which has about 2,500 students, 172 people gave feedback to the Department of Education.

7:08 p.m. Charter school supporters aren’t the only supporters of the mayor’s policies in attendance tonight. Anyta Brown, an East New York grandmother of five, says she supports turnaround. “We cannot stand by and have these teachers and these principals continue to fail our students,” she says.

Brown said she is attending tonight because she is a member of Families Taking Action, an advocacy group in Brooklyn. According to its website, the group is a project of Education Reform Now, the advocacy group formerly chaired by ex-Chancellor Joel Klein that lobbied for an end to seniority-based layoff rules.

6:59 p.m. The panel is also set to vote on new locations for more than a dozen charter schools, and at least a third of the people in attendance tonight are supporters of two charter networks with schools on the agenda. Most are from the Success Charter Network, turning the audience into a sea of orange t-shirts, but some are also from Democracy Prep. The Democracy Prep contingent grows when a large number of supporters enter carrying yellow foam “Number 1” signs.

6:50 p.m. This is a small crowd, but its members are determined to make their voices heard. Out of about 300 people in attendance, 164 are signed up to speak.

In contrast, thousands of people crowded into Brooklyn Tech’s auditorium for February’s school closure votes, but only 125 people signed up to speak. (Other people shouted out of turn as part of a raucous Occupy the DOE protest.) Then, public comment stretched only until a little after 9 p.m., and the panel finished voting around 11 p.m.

6:42 p.m. Not many teachers from mammoth John Dewey High School, which had organized some of the earliest and most frequent turnaround protests, are present tonight. One who did make the trek says the school’s new administration — its longtime principal was replaced last month — had discouraged attendance and downplayed discussion about the meeting.

6:37 p.m. A group of protesters wielding “Occupy Closing Schools” signs takes up a new chant that targets the city’s plan to use a clause of its contract with the teachers union to allow principals to remove teachers at the turnaround schools. “Union busting — that’s disgusting,” they shout.

6:30 p.m. Fresh from the City Hall rally, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is the first to offer public comment. He says the schools need funding, not overhauls. “Rather than close the schools, give them the resources to make it,” he says. “Give them the resources and we can turn these schools around.”

Markowitz also argues that he should have more influence over the panel. “Brooklyn’s got more students than the rest of New York, but I’ve only got one vote up there. I don’t think that’s fair,” he says.

Seven of the nine schools pulled from the turnaround list since are in Brooklyn, leaving just five at risk of closure. In Queens, just one of eight proposals has been withdrawn.

6:24 p.m. Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg is presenting a resolution against turnaround. It was penned by Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who represents Queens, where seven large high schools face the closure process. The resolution will be voted on tonight along with the turnaround proposals and 17 other proposals for changes in how school space is used.

On Wednesday, Fedkowskyj said he had actively been lobbying other panel members to support the resolution. But other than Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative who often opposes mayoral policies, he had found no firm takers, he said.

6:14 p.m. The calmer-than-usual tone does mean there are no theatrics. As Chancellor Dennis Walcott and others introduce themselves and the agenda, a handful of teachers brandish sock puppets. “The biggest puppet, the chief puppet!” they shout.

Another group of teachers, mostly from Lehman High School in the Bronx, chant, “Close the PEP, not our schools!”

6:07 p.m. Reports Geoff: “This is the most calm we’ve seen a PEP meeting in some time.”

6:02 p.m. In stark contrast to scenes outside Brooklyn Tech back in February, when the panel voted to close or shrink 23 schools, there is virtually no one outside the building right now.

A few students punctuate the quiet with chants. Diana Rodriguez, a student leader at Grover Cleveland, which was removed from the turnaround list today, said she was heartened but did not want to stay home.

“Of course even though we got taken off the list we’re still going to fight for the other schools,” Rodriguez said.

6 p.m. There is a new face on the panel tonight. Lisette Nieves, a mayoral appointee who recently rumbled with Manhattan representative Patrick Sullivan, has stepped down. Her replacement is Joan Correale, who formerly sat on the panel as the Staten Island borough president’s pick. Now she is back as an appointee of Mayor Bloomberg — with whose picks she had always sided.

Asked on Wednesday whether the composition of the panel might change before tonight’s meeting, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens borough president’s appointee, said he wouldn’t know. “We wont find out until tomorrow night when we all sit at the dais and realize there’s somebody new there,” he said.

5:45 p.m. Leo Casey, a UFT vice president, is the lone teachers union representative at the Prospect Heights Campus. “I just want to make an official objection for when we sue them,” he says about the city.

5:39 p.m. Student activists had announced plans for a satirical “Students for Bloomberg” rally to poke fun at the mayor’s policies. But gathered on Classon Avenue, some are having second thoughts.

“We are the 13 percent of black and Latino students who have benefited from larger class sizes, 140 closures, turnarounds, policing in schools budget cuts, few guidance counselors, mayoral control, credit recovery, school choice, fewer electives and an enormous amount of high-stakes testing,” their script reads. But the students don’t want to be misinterpreted — they actually think these policies and practices have hurt schools.

There are about 20 students from half a dozen schools deliberating about what to do next. One of them, Robert Matthew, is a junior at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School in the Bronx, where the construction skills program is being phased out. Under turnaround it might disappear ahead of schedule, students worry. “I’ve done this for three years and it could all be a waste,” Matthew said.

5:20 p.m. The United Federation of Teachers isn’t organizing its usual caravan to Brooklyn to protest the school closure votes, but that doesn’t mean the union is staying mum. It convened a press conference and rally on the steps of City Hall at 4:30 p.m., giving attendees the option of heading to the PEP meeting afterwards to continue their protest.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said Mayor Bloomberg “keeps changing his story” about how the turnaround schools were selected and why turnaround is needed. “This will go down as one of the worst days in the New York City public schools,” he said. “These votes shouldn’t even be happening.”

A steady rain did not deter dozens of teachers from showing up, carrying signs and chanting, “Shame on you.” Nor did it stop a host of elected officials from lending support to schools in their districts and across the city, including Comptroller John Liu, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and several City Council members. Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee, sported a UFT poncho as he decried charter school co-locations, several of which also appear on the panel’s agenda tonight.

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?”