state budget 2013

Democrats divided over push to restore NYC schools funding

Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan and other lawmakers speak in support of restoring funds to New York City at a press conference in the state capitol.

Democrats in the Senate are split along new political fault lines over a push to restore state schools funds to New York City.

Three city senators from a breakaway group of Democrats, formed as part of a power-sharing deal with Republicans, said this week that they would not join with party colleagues during upcoming budget negotiations in calling for increased aid for the city’s schools.

The state is planning to take back $260 million from the city after the city and its teachers union failed to reach a deal on evaluations before Jan. 17, a deadline mandated by law. The loss of funds would result in cuts to the school system’s central offices, extracurricular programs, and school staff.

The legislature passed the law last year, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s urging, to incentivize local school districts to come to agreements over contentious teacher evaluation plans.

Many of the same lawmakers who supported Cuomo’s carrot-and-stick approach say they now made a mistake and want to reverse course. The law was meant to be more of a threat, some said Wednesday, and they never expected it to go this far.

“I never say I have all the answers,” said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the education committee. “I voted for that because I accepted what the other people all said, but I think now it was a mistake.”

Nolan and her Democratic colleagues in the Assembly, most of whom come from New York City, said they are prepared to dig in their heels as budget negotiations get underway. Speaker Sheldon Silver told teachers and parents, in Albany for the United Federation of Teachers Lobby Day on Wednesday, that he would restore the $260 million in the Assembly’s budget proposal, which will be introduced today.

But Senate Democrats, who are less concentrated in New York City, are more divided, and it’s unlikely they’ll take up the fight as vigorously as the Assembly plans to.

Westchester’s Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who heads the Senate Democratic Conference, said Wednesday she still hopes to see the funds restored.

“The children shouldn’t have to suffer because the adults couldn’t agree,” Stewart-Cousins said.

But senators from the five-member Independent Democratic Conference, which joined forces with Republicans to run the Senate last year, said they do not.

“Unfortunately, the law is the law,” said Jeff Klein, a Bronx senator who heads the Independent Democratic Conference. Klein said he instead supported Cuomo’s legislation to allow state Education Commissioner John King to decide the evaluation system if New York City can’t come to an agreement for next year. “I think restoration of the money is going to be very, very difficult, because it was mandated in law. It was very clear.”

Two other members of Klein’s group, Diane Savino, who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, and Malcolm Smith, of Queens, said the loss in funding was a consequence of the both sides’ inability to negotiate a deal.

The lack of support from the Independent Democratic Conference is significant. Of 63 senators, 31 are caucusing with Republicans and 27 are with the Democrats. The five independents are a perpetual swing vote, but they have so far sided with Democrats.

Savino said she was less eager to support the funding because the central players were not lobbying heavily for it.

“Neither the city or the UFT are asking for it,” Savino said. “The UFT was up here today and they weren’t asking for it.”

Others have been more aggressive. It’s a top legislative priority for the advocacy organization Alliance for Quality Education, and three of the four Democratic candidates for mayor said they supported AQE’s campaign.

“There is no good excuse for the state to make these cuts,” said Billy Easton, AQE’s executive director. “The Independent Democrats would appear to have leverage on this issue. I would hope they would use it.”

Without the support of the Independent Democratic Conference, the likelihood that legislative action could restore funding grows dimmer. The cuts could still be averted in court: Right now, they are on hold while a judge rules if they’re legal.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”