taking a stand

Weiner supports co-locations, Catholic schools on first day out

220px-AnthonyweinerAnthony Weiner’s views on education policy became a little clearer on his first full day on the campaign trail, when he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that he supports letting charter schools use space in public school buildings.

The issue puts him at odds with several of his Democratic competitors for mayor, who have said they would impose a moratorium on the space-sharing arrangements. Co-location has induced tension in many school buildings, but it has also allowed the city’s charter school sector to thrive, and whether to continue the practice is a major decision facing the next mayor.

In fact, on the issue of school choice, Weiner suggested that his support extends well beyond the public school system. He proposed helping non-public schools — he cited cash-strapped Catholic schools in particular — with publicly funded support that they are already entitled to, including technology, health care and security. He first floated the idea in his 2009 policy book “Keys to the City,” which he re-released last month.

“We’ve made it much too difficult for parish schools in this city and they are an asset and we should all mourn when they disappear,” Weiner told Lehrer, in the former congressman’s first broadcast interview since he declared his candidacy for mayor. Weiner’s political career seemingly ended two years ago when he was lied about sending sexually explicit texts to women on Twitter.

Weiner said the city had been misguided in buying and renting space from Catholic schools that have closed, as dozens have done due to dwindling enrollment, instead of helping the schools stay open.

“Rather than try to help these Catholic schools, rather than see if we can help them in purely secular ways of trying to ease some of their burdens, and rather than saying to the folks at Tweed, ‘You know, let’s see what we can do with public dollars that they’re entitled to anyway — things like book money — and see if we can figure out ways to help,’ we’ve kind of swooped in and tried to make use of the property instead,” Weiner said.

After Lehrer asked whether the plan could violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, Weiner said his interest in seeing Catholic schools survive in New York City comes from support for choice.

“I just think we have to … see it as more of our mission to have education as more of a cornucopia of options rather than simply one,” Weiner said. But he said he would not support vouchers that would let families use public funds to pay private school tuition.

Not much is known about what kind of an education mayor Weiner would be. But that was one of the first topics that Lehrer pressed Weiner on after he once again apologized for the sexting scandal, which he characterized as “private behavior and things that I was doing in my private life.”

Weiner repeated a plea that, at the very least, New Yorkers listen to his ideas on how he would run the city if elected mayor. He began first with some praise for the Bloomberg administration, whose policies on education have become a daily punching bag for Weiner’s Democratic rivals.

“The way I look at the Bloomberg administration is that they did a laudable thing to begin with, and they said let’s get control of the system and lets put a lot more money into it. And it’s undeniable that, frankly, it’s the only part of the budget that is really growing a great deal,” Weiner said.

Under Bloomberg, city education spending has increased from $5.9 billion in 2002 to $13.7 billion for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But Weiner then unleashed some anti-testing rhetoric that would fit right in with the other Democratic candidates.

“I think there are too many standardized tests,” Weiner said, a complaint that he might not have all that much control over as mayor, because federal law requires that states administer annual standardized testing.

But he said that the city relied too heavily on the state tests and suggested that a better way to gauge the city’s school system would be through national assessments.

“I think we have to take a look, not how we’re comparing the Bronx to Staten Island. We got to think about how we’re comparing to Pittsburgh,” Weiner said, citing as an example the midwestern city whose skyline for some reason appears on his own campaign’s website. “And I think that taking a snapshot of those national tests is as important as anything we’re doing locally.”

On the divisive issue of charter school co-locations, Weiner said he supported them as long as there is free space inside city school buildings.

“I don’t have an objection to co-locating charter schools and public schools where there is space,” said Weiner, who did not discuss whether he supported Bloomberg’s school closure policies, which have often freed up space for charter schools. Other Democratic candidates for mayor have said they thought the Bloomberg administration too often turned to closures instead of supporting low-performing schools.

Weiner’s early campaign strategy appears to try to, as the Times put it this morning, seize a “common-sense centrism” that the other Democrats have so far ignored. In dealing with growing mandated costs tied to the city’s municipal labor force, Weiner said he would want to see workers begin paying health insurance premiums, with higher rates for smokers.

The Bloomberg administration cited both proposals last month as crucial concessions needed to keep reduce healthcare costs, projected to increase by 30 percent in three years.

“So does this position indicate that you will not be competing for public sector union endorsements?” Lehrer asked Weiner.

Weiner said that the message he wants to send to public employees, with whom the next mayor will have to negotiate new contracts, is that money saved through higher health insurance premiums could end up back in their pockets another way.

“That is money we can’t use for raises,” said Weiner, referring to the $2.6 billion that the city’s annual bill for healthcare is projected to increase by over the next four years.

Lehrer asked specifically about the UFT endorsement, which is scheduled for June 19 and has been seen as one of the most crucial for the Democratic candidates.

“If I don’t get the UFT endorsement, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try every single day to persuade every teacher and every supervisor and every staff member that I want their vote,” Weiner said.

Sticker shock

In Illinois, child care costs eclipse rent, making it one of least affordable states  

The average annual cost of child care now outpaces what families spend on a year of rent in Illinois, according to a new report that examines child care costs nationwide.

Illinois is one of the 15 least affordable states in the country, according to the report from the Virginia-based nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. The nonprofit examined costs across the United States and adjusted them for median income and cost of living.

“Families are seeing that child care is a significant portion of the bill they have to pay,” rivaling the cost of college tuition, rent, and even sometimes mortgage payments in some areas of the country, said Dionne Dobbins, senior director of research at Child Care Aware.  

The average annual cost of center-based care for an infant in Illinois has reached $13,474 — which is a staggering 52 percent of the median income of a single-parent family in the state and nearly 15 percent of the state’s median married couple’s income.

That figure put it 13th among the least affordable states, which were ranked by the percentage of a single-parent family’s income spent on child care. Massachusetts topped out at nearly 65 percent of a single-parent family’s median income for center-based infant care.

In Illinois, care for toddlers and older children before and after school also consumed a greater percentage of a family’s income compared with other states. Illinois ranked 14th for toddler care as a percentage of median income, with an average cost of $11,982 for full-time toddler care at a center.

The state was among least affordable for the cost of three months of summer care.

 

Illinois offers a child care subsidy intended to offset the costs of care for low-income working families, but that program has been rocked by shifting eligibility requirements and compliance issues. Participation in the program has dropped by a third since 2015, when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration changed eligibility requirements.

Dobbins said that, across the United States, child care subsidy programs are under pressure as states tighten compliance and lower reimbursement rates. In some states like Illinois, rising minimum wages have rendered some families ineligible for subsidies or staring down co-pays that they can’t afford.

Dobbins said that nationally, only one in six children eligible for subsidized child care actually ends up using it.

 

words of advice

Here’s advice from a social worker on how schools can support transgender students right now

PHOTO: Getty Images
A flag for transgender and gender noncomforming people is held up at a rally for LGBTQ rights at Washington Square Park.

Soon after news broke that the Trump administration could further roll back civil rights protections for transgender students, one New York City teacher sent an email blast to her fellow educators.

She was searching for materials to use in biology class that reflect people of different gender identities, but couldn’t find anything.

Many city educators may similarly grapple with how to support transgender students after it was reported that the Trump administration is considering whether to narrowly define gender based on a person’s biology at birth — a move that could have implications for how sex discrimination complaints in schools are handled under federal Title IX.

Olin Winn-Ritzenberg — a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center — has some tips for navigating the questions and emotions this latest proposal might surface. He runs a support group for transgender teens and their peers who want to be allies, and says the most important advice is to just be willing to talk and listen.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis,” he said. “By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support.”

Here’s what he had to say about recognizing transgender students, the protections that New York City and state offer, and some mistakes to avoid.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your tips for how to explain the news to students and young people?

If it’s news like this, that’s hard to maybe pin down what it exactly means (this was a memo, and does it have teeth? What does it mean?) I would look to them for the feeling of it. That’s what’s really important and a lot of what’s going on is just fear mongering, and a denial of trans existence. And that is something our young people will be able to speak to, to no end, and that they’re not strangers to — especially under this administration.

I would want to help ground things and offer some reassurance that a memo doesn’t have teeth and that we can look to our local New York City and state protections — that we’re lucky to live in a place that has such strong protections, especially for students.

What kinds of protections should New York City students expect to have in schools?

A student in New York City could expect to use the facilities that align with their identity, and could expect to possibly see all-gender facilities in their schools — as there are more and more of those being converted. They can expect to be able to file or register a complaint of discrimination against other students or even staff, and can expect to have an LGBT liaison within the Department of Education. They can expect to have their name and pronoun respected and utilized, and come up with a plan with a staff member around, if they’re transitioning socially or in any form at school, how they would like to be supported and how that looks in each unique situation.

It doesn’t always happen. But the fact that we do have it in policy means that there’s a means to pursuing it and that the institution is on the side of the trans or gender non-conforming student and would help to rectify any situation that’s feeling unsafe or unsupportive.

How can teachers and adults show support for their transgender students right now?

I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis. It shouldn’t be necessarily on any student to bring it up. By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support. Even though this is a memo and we’re all waiting to see what they’re going to try to do with it, we know the intentions behind it…

I think we can speak directly to that and not make the debate about, ‘Is there or isn’t there a trans experience?’ That’s maybe one of the most powerful things. Yes, we exist. And if you’re an ally: ‘I’m a witness. You exist. You’re valid and as valid as anybody else.’

What would that validation look like in a school setting, say, if you’re a math teacher?

I think that making things visible is powerful. So if there’s a public bulletin board in a hallway and it says, ‘We stand with our trans staff and students,’ and then people have an opportunity to sign it.

I really think it can be an individualized response by a school depending on that school’s culture and if there is leadership by students, say, ‘We would like to be vocal and explicit in our support. You come up with the idea.’ Or, not to put it on them but say, ‘We’d love to be guided or get input from you on how to do that,’ so it is, wherever possible youth and trans-led.

Say, ‘What do you need and what can we provide?’

What should teachers and adults avoid saying or doing at a time like this?

I think a common, misguided mistake — that’s not necessarily hateful, but is really harmful nonetheless — is propping up a debate that’s going to hinge on ‘Do trans people exist?’ Or, ‘Defend or argue against sex being a binary, scientific, biological basis to view narrowly.’  

If a teacher wanted to engage with this but the assignment were more like, ‘What are your thoughts,’ there is so much education that needs to be done first — and that can put a person’s very identity and being up for debate in a classroom setting.

Another really bad thing would be just to ignore it because people are maybe scared of going there or don’t know what to do.