injunction function

In court, a debate over how much $250M matters to city schools

The outcome in the lawsuit to reclaim lost state aid for New York City schools will hinge largely on the argument of what scale of educational impact that sum could have on students.

If New York County Supreme Court Judge Manuel Mendez sides with attorney Michael Rebell, who is suing the state, he’ll agree that the lack of roughly $250 million will cause “irreparable harm” to students. If he sides with lawyers representing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Education Commissioner John King, he’ll concur that the total is just a fraction of what the city spends annually on education, and therefore won’t do much more than put a dent in school budgets.

Rebell filed the lawsuit earlier this month after Cuomo said he would not seek to extend a deadline that awarded increased state aid only to districts that agreed to a teacher evaluation system. New York City was one of six districts that did not meet the deadline, which Cuomo signed into law last year to force districts and their unions to negotiate the controversial plans.

The two sides were in court today for the first time arguing over Rebell’s request for Mendez to issue an preliminary injunction, an early court order that requires the defendant to either proceed or cease with a specific action. In today’s case, the state is planning to withdraw the funds and Rebell wants Mendez to prevent the state from taking back the money while he is considering the case.

To win an injunction, Rebell needs to prove some key points. First, he has to show that the state aid cut is irreparably harmful to affected schools and students while the lawsuit is pending. Second, he needs to prove a high likelihood of ultimately winning the case.

In response to the sudden funding gap, the Department of Education is planning midyear cuts for March 1, Rebell said, making an injunction especially urgent. After the hearing, Rebell said he couldn’t predict where, specifically, irreparable harm would take place.

“We don’t know that yet,” Rebell said. “You got a huge hit on the whole city so it’s going to fall out on these kids. Exactly how? Who knows, but it’s going to be devastating.”

Rebell said he left out specific evidence of harm because he believed he had a good shot at winning the case. Previous court cases firmly established that state aid disbursements were constitutionally necessary for a student to receive a “sound basic education,” he said.

Cuomo’s lawyers argued today that increased state aid — they used a larger figure, $260 million — didn’t amount to much compared to the $7.9 billion that the city received from the state this year. They said that many cuts that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott have publicly forecast would not violate a student’s right to a “sound basic education.”

Rebell called the argument tenuous, saying that it was Cuomo who believed the amount was significant enough to dangle as an incentive for New York City and other districts to submit evaluation plans.

Arguing for the state, Assistant Attorney General Steven Schulman also said that harm from the lost aid was a relative drop in the bucket compared to what would happen if the state was unable to enforce the teacher evaluation law. Without new teacher evaluations, he said, the state would likely not be able to retain much of its $696 million Race to the Top grant. He also argued that the quality of education would suffer.

“There is no dispute here that annual performance reviews will improve education for students,” Schulman’s brief says.

In court, he said, the “grant is jeopardized by New York City’s failure to adopt a performance evaluation program.”

Mendez did not issue a ruling but told both side he would rule shortly.

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.