making his case

Arguing for mayoral control, de Blasio sparks a spat over charter school funding

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin-Office of the Governor/Flickr
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in 2014.

As Mayor Bill de Blasio appealed to state lawmakers Tuesday to let him keep control of the city schools, he took a shot at charter schools that could hurt his case.

Without mayoral control of city schools, thousands of toddlers would be without pre-kindergarten classes and the entire system would be “fragmented and inefficient,” he said during a budget hearing in Albany.

But he also spoke out against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent proposal to increase funding for charter schools, saying it would place an unfair financial burden on the city. Since Cuomo and some Republican lawmakers view the mayoral control debate as more a referendum on de Blasio’s education policies than a governance question, and both embrace charter schools, de Blasio’s remarks could undermine his argument to them.

“We hold a basic belief that every single child in this state is equally important,” de Blasio said about the proposed boost in charter-school funding, “and we do not support initiatives that take from one group of children to give to another.”

Cuomo recently proposed ending the current freeze on the public funding New York City charter schools receive for each student. That would raise funding for the city’s charter schools one year ahead of the rest of the state’s charters, which have not seen a funding increase for five years.

De Blasio said Tuesday that lifting the freeze would cost the city over $30 million next year, and pointed out that no other municipality is being asked to pay for such an increase. He said the city would welcome state money to cover the cost, but added that he would not want the state to “take away funding from other pressing needs.”

Charter advocates were quick to criticize the mayor’s comments.

“The Mayor’s position today conflicts with his recent inclusive tone around charter schools, and that is unfortunate — though not entirely unexpected,” said James Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

De Blasio’s strong stance against raising per-pupil charter school funding is unlikely to please either Cuomo, who has again said he would support a three-year extension of mayoral control, or from Republican lawmakers, who are already skeptical about de Blasio’s bid.

Otherwise, the mayor’s testimony hewed closely to themes he established last year when he asked for a permanent extension of mayoral control, which had expired after a six-year stint. Legislators ultimately granted him a one-year renewal and invited him to return this year to try again.

The short extension set the stage for another debate this year over de Blasio’s education policies. Now, state lawmakers will decide whether de Blasio’s “Renewal” program for struggling schools, his vast expansion of pre-K program, and his stance on charters warrants the permanent extension of mayoral control, or at least a seven-year renewal, which de Blasio is asking for.

In making his case Tuesday, he cited the relatively smooth pre-K rollout and the city’s record-high graduation rate last year. He also gave an implicit nod to his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who first convinced legislators to give the city’s mayor authority over the nation’s largest school system, then used the power to make sweeping changes — including disempowering local school boards, overhauling admissions systems, and closing hundreds of schools. Though Bloomberg’s policy prescriptions remain controversial, graduation rates rose and corruption waned during those years.

“Over time, we’ve seen that mayoral control works,” de Blasio said.

But the governor and some lawmakers take the position that the tool of mayoral control cannot be separated from the policies of the person who wields it.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s office said in a statement this month that he plans to scrutinize de Blasio’s long-term vision for city education, especially the city’s progress at turning around underperforming schools, and dive into specific issues like allegations of grade-fixing.

“Senator Flanagan supports mayoral control for New York City schools, but not at any cost,” according to the statement from his press office.

Since the now-annual debate over mayoral control gives de Blasio’s critics in Albany a chance to publicly evaluate his policies, it’s unlikely they will grant him a long-term extension this session, said David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

“Why give up a fun toy?” he said.

De Blasio and his allies say the mayor’s policy positions should not influence lawmakers’ answer to the theoretical question of who should control the city’s schools system. Others say the repeated battles over the specifics of mayoral control have become a distraction.

“This is another issue that takes away from the issues that we want to focus on if we have to go back to the table each year and debate mayoral control,” said Randi Levine, a project director at Advocates for Children.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”