hail mary

Assembly members float alternative to tax credits for private schools

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Speaker Carl Heastie on the Assembly floor.

Lawmakers in the State Assembly say there is a way to offer more support for private and parochial schools without agreeing to generous tax credits for those able to make big-ticket donations.

Instead of reimbursing donors who support private-school scholarship funds for low-income students, the lawmakers said existing reimbursement programs within the state education department could be used to funnel more money to nonpublic schools. The idea would be coupled with a tax deduction for middle- and low-income families that spend up to $3,000 on education expenses for their children each year, and came up during closed-door meetings between Democrats in the Assembly as a counterproposal in contentious negotiations.

“It’s a compromise,” said David Weprin, an Assembly member from Queens.

The lawmakers mentioned the idea, which they cautioned may not yet be on the table among legislative leaders, as they prepared to file out of Albany on Friday. The legislative session was scheduled to end on Wednesday but has been extended until at least next Tuesday, and lawmakers have come to no resolution on a host of outstanding education issues — including mayoral control of city schools, charter-school growth, and revisions to an unpopular teacher-evaluation law — that have been preempted by more urgent negotiations over housing laws.

The most the legislature has been able to agree to so far has been an extension of rent regulations for long enough for lawmakers to go home for a couple of days.

On Friday, Assembly Democrats dropped a months-long call for stronger rent laws and introduced legislation that would simply renew for two years the regulations that expired earlier this week. The bill, first reported by the Daily News, also reintroduces the Assembly’s three-year renewal of mayoral control, conceding nothing to the Senate’s one-year proposal that includes perks for charter schools.

“The Assembly Democratic conference will not be held hostage by the Senate,” Assembly spokesman Michael Whyland told the Daily News. “These are important issues for millions of New York City residents and residents throughout the state.”

Negotiations among the state’s leaders will continue through the weekend, and the rest of the legislature will return Tuesday to resume their work. On Friday, Speaker Carl Heastie said that almost everything was still on the table, adding somewhat begrudgingly that even the prospect of allowing more charter schools to open in New York City was being discussed.

“For the most part, the Assembly conference is not big supporters of charter schools,” Heastie said in brief remarks to reporters. “Charters are something that Senate Republicans like to support. They never want them in their districts. I don’t get that one. But that’s something they may have requested.”

“As long as the clock hasn’t run out on the session, I guess a lot of things are on the table,” Heastie said.

When lawmakers return on Tuesday, there will be just a week left before mayoral control expires.

“We can’t let it lapse,” said Linda Rosenthal, an Assembly member who represents the Upper West Side.

“The fact is that the upstate senators — what is it to them to extend mayoral control? Why is that a bad thing?” Rosenthal said. “It’s clearly another issue they want to take the city hostage on.”

Some of Rosenthal’s Democratic colleagues, however, are more ambivalent — or simply opposed.

“You know, back in the days, when the oft-criticized community boards ran education, we had some wonderful districts,” said Michael Benedetto, a Bronx Assembly member and former teacher for nearly three decades at P.S. 160 in Co-op City. (Benedetto voted in favor of the Assembly’s three-year mayoral control extension.)

“Having school boards isn’t fool proof, but the community needs some say in how their children are being educated, as opposed to one person having control over billions of dollars,” said Latrice Walker, an Assembly member from East New York and Brownsville who was one of the few Democrats who voted against the Assembly’s mayoral control bill last month.

Lawmakers in the Assembly said they hoped to find some common ground next year on how to support private and parochial schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has aggressively pushed for a set of tax credits in a bid to help nonpublic schools, which he says would offer needed help to Catholic and other schools. Teachers unions and many lawmakers oppose the plan, which they see a way to direct taxpayer dollars away from public schools. They have also bristled at a tax policy that would provide a 75 percent reimbursement to donors who give up to $1 million, a scheme they see as a giveaway to the rich.

The compromise that the Assembly has floated would boost the amount provided to nonpublic schools through the state’s largest reimbursement program, called mandated services aid. The program, first established in 1974, and others like it reimburse schools for costs associated with reporting daily attendance, administering state tests, giving immunization shots and buying textbooks and technology. Last year, the city’s budget included $64.6 million for nonpublic schools, according to the Department of Education website.

But the programs have not been fully funded for much of the last decade and owes nonpublic schools an estimated $225 million in “delinquent reimbursements,” according to the New York State Catholic Conference last year.

Lawmakers said they preferred using an existing funding stream instead of establishing an entirely new one, as the tax credits would require.

“We’re already doing mandated services and these are resources that private schools have access to,” Walker said.

The state set aside more than $170 million in money to reimburse nonpublic schools this year, Assembly member Catherine Nolan said. Reimbursement money on top of that, the exact amount of which Weprin said was still a moving target, wouldn’t be earmarked to serve low-income families the way the tax credits are, but schools could use it for similar purposes.

“The schools would be in a better financial position which would enable them to potentially reduce tuition, potentially have more scholarship money for students,” Weprin said. “The money is fungible.”

Representatives for the governor’s office and the Senate did not respond to requests for comment.

Bob Bellafiore, a spokesman for the Coalition for Opportunity in Education, which has aggressively lobbied in support of the tax credits, criticized the alternative proposal because it would not include as much funding for needy families.

“For poor and middle-income parents, you need to have the same access to choice that wealthy people have,” Bellafiore said. “Throwing some peanuts to some schools is not going to do that.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.