the trump effect

‘I should have been more outspoken’: In letter, Eva Moskowitz denounces Trump, regrets her earlier response

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Eva Moskowitz at a parent rally in Albany in 2015

The head of Success Academy sent a forceful letter to parents and staff at Success Academy on Thursday condemning President Donald Trump and expressing regret for not being “more outspoken” about her beliefs.

The letter, first reported by Politico New York, marks Moskowitz’s most aggressive rebuke of the president, whom she originally said she would “work with” after meeting with him when she was under consideration for the position of U.S education secretary. On Thursday, Moskowitz acknowledged that was a miscalculation.

Unfortunately, our nation has become so polarized in the Trump era that some have perceived my silence as tacit support of President Trump’s policies,” the letter said. “I apologize to you for allowing this to happen.”

It continues, “In retrospect, I should have been more outspoken so that no one would possibly think that either Success Academy or I was tacitly supporting President Trump’s policies, which are contrary to the values of respect, caring, and concern that are central to our mission.”

Moskowitz had previously seemed reluctant to distance herself from the Trump administration. While other charter leaders were silent about Trump’s pick of Betsy DeVos for U.S. education secretary, she tweeted her support for DeVos. She also hosted Ivanka Trump at a Success Academy school after the presidential election.

But the past weekend’s racist violence Charlottesville — and Trump’s equivocal response — appear to have pushed Moskowitz over the edge.

“Like so many of you, I am deeply distressed both by the hateful violence in Charlottesville and by President Trump’s refusal to clearly denounce it,” the letter reads. “Nobody with any empathy for the plight of people of color in this country could respond the way he did.”

Last week, Success Academy became ensnared in its own racial controversy after Daniel Loeb, its board chairman, said African-American New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who he considers loyal to unions, done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.” Loeb later apologized and deleted the post.

Moskowitz denounced those comments in an earlier letter to the Success Academy community, but he remains chairman of the board.

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Success Academy Community,

Like so many of you, I am deeply distressed both by the hateful violence in Charlottesville and by President Trump’s refusal to clearly denounce it. Nobody with any empathy for the plight of people of color in this country could respond the way he did.  His comments have left many in our community feeling unsafe and uncertain about their place in society. It’s one thing to have a President with whose politics you disagree; it’s another to have a President who doesn’t even seem to care about your welfare.

One of our greatest weapons in fighting the kinds of injustice, violence, and moral confusion we have seen over the past few days is ensuring that we have schools where our children are safe not only physically, but also emotionally and morally, and are taught the values to which we aspire. We must renew our commitment to instilling high moral character in our students, to teaching them to  treat each other with kindness, to stand up for what is right, and to respect the diversity of backgrounds and experiences that strengthen our country. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Like many of you, I have found the Trump presidency distressing, and I want to candidly share with you the struggles I’ve faced in dealing with it. As I explained when I announced that I was turning down a potential opportunity to serve as Secretary of Education, I voted for Hillary Clinton and was sorely disappointed she didn’t win. I am a Democrat and disagree with virtually all of President Trump’s policy positions including those on healthcare, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, immigration, global warming, gun control, and tax “reform.” I chose not to speak publicly about these disagreements, however, because I feel my responsibility as CEO of Success Academy is not to advance my personal beliefs on a broad range of political issues but instead to focus all of my energies on advocating for our kids and public policies that expand educational opportunity and parent choice. This is the approach I’ve taken for the last 11 years, working with elected officials from both parties including Presidents Obama and Bush, Governors Cuomo, Patterson, Spitzer, and Pataki, and Mayor Bloomberg.

Unfortunately, our nation has become so polarized in the Trump era that some have perceived my silence as tacit support of President Trump’s policies. This is particularly upsetting to me because opponents of charter schools in general, and of Success Academy in particular, have sought to take advantage of this confusion to undermine our schools and the work we do for children. I apologize to you for allowing this to happen. I thought the approach I’d previously taken would work in this new era; I’ve learned it doesn’t, particularly in light of President Trump’s horrifying response to the violence in Charlottesville. In retrospect, I should have been more outspoken so that no one would possibly think that either Success Academy or I was tacitly supporting President Trump’s policies, which are contrary to the values of respect, caring, and concern that are central to our mission.

Moving forward, I hope that we can redouble our efforts to protect our children from the terrible hatred and violence that still plagues our nation and work to make our country a place in which there is greater tolerance, equality, and love for one another.


Eva Moskowitz


Colorado schools are getting a major bump in the state’s 2018-19 budget

Students waiting to enter their sixth-grade classroom at Kearney Middle School in Commerce City. (Photo by Craig Walker, The Denver Post)

Colorado’s strong economy has opened the door for state lawmakers to send a major cash infusion to the state’s public schools.

As they finalized the recommended budget for 2018-19, the Joint Budget Committee set aside $150 million, an additional $50 million beyond what Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper had asked for, to increase funding to schools.

“We believe this is the most significant reduction in what used to be called the negative factor since it was born,” said state Rep. Millie Hamner, the Dillon Democrat who chairs the Joint Budget Committee.

Colorado’s constitution calls for per pupil spending to increase at least by inflation every year, but the state hasn’t been able to meet that obligation since the Great Recession. The amount by which schools get shorted, officially called the budget stabilization factor, is $822 million in 2017-18. Under state law, this number isn’t supposed to get bigger from one year to the next, but in recent years, it hasn’t gotten much smaller either. 

But a booming economy coupled with more capacity in the state budget created by a historic compromise on hospital funding last year means Colorado has a lot more money to spend this year. In their March forecast, legislative economists told lawmakers they have an extra $1.3 billion to spend or save in 2018-19.

The recommended shortfall for next year is now just $672.4 million. That would bring average per-pupil spending above $8,100, compared to $7,662 this year.

Total program spending on K-12 education, after the budget stabilization factor is deducted, should be a little more than $7 billion, with the state picking up about $4.5 billion and the rest coming from local property taxes.

The budget debate this year has featured Republicans pressing for more ongoing money for transportation and Democrats resisting in the interest of spreading more money around to other needs. The positive March forecast reduced much of that tension, as a $500 million allocation for transportation allowed a compromise on roads funding in the Republican-controlled Senate. That compromise still needs the approval of the Democratic-controlled House, but suddenly a lot of things are seeming possible.

“We knew we were going to have more revenue than we’ve ever had to work with,” Hamner said of the status at the beginning of the session. But that presented its own challenges, as so many interest groups and constituencies sought to address long-standing needs.

“The fact that we’ve been able to reach such incredible compromises on transportation and K-12 funding, I think most members will be very pleased with this outcome,” Hamner said. “Where we ended up is a pretty good place.”

The big outstanding issue is proposed reforms to the Public Employees Retirement Association or PERA fund to address unfunded liabilities. A bill that is likely to see significant changes in the House is wending its way through the process. The Joint Budget Committee has set aside $225 million to deal with costs associated with that fix, which has major implications for teachers and school districts budgets.

The Joint Budget Committee has also set aside $30 million for rural schools, $10 million for programs to address teacher shortages, and $7 million for school safety grants.

The budget will be introduced in the House on Monday. Many of the school funding elements will appear in a separate school finance bill.

Going forward, there is a question about how sustainable these higher funding levels will be.

“It does put more pressure on the general fund,” Hamner said. “If we see a downturn in the economy, it’s going to be a challenge.”

outside the box

Program to bring back dropout students is one of 10 new ideas Jeffco is investing in

File photo of Wheat Ridge High School students. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Jeffco students who drop out will have another option for completing high school starting this fall, thanks to a program that is being started with money from a district “innovation fund.”

The new program would allow students, particularly those who are older and significantly behind on credits, to get district help to prepare for taking a high school equivalency test, such as the GED, while also taking college courses paid for by the district.

The idea for the program was pitched by Dave Kollar, who has worked for Jeffco Public Schools for almost 20 years, most recently as the district’s director of student engagement.

In part, Kollar’s idea is meant to give students hope and to allow them to see college as a possibility, instead of having to slowly walk back as they recover credits missing in their transcripts.

“For some kids, they look at you, and rightfully so, like ‘I’m going to be filling in holes for a year or two? This doesn’t seem realistic,’” Kollar said. “They’re kind of defeated by that. As a student, I’m constantly looking backwards at my failures. This is about giving kids something like a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Jeffco’s dropout rate has decreased in the last few years, like it has across the state. At 1.7 percent, the rate isn’t high, but still represents 731 students who dropped out last year.

Kollar’s was one of ten winning ideas announced earlier this month in the district’s first run at giving out mini-grants to kick-start innovative ideas. Kollar’s idea received $160,000 to get the program started and to recruit students who have dropped out and are willing to come back to school.

The other ideas that the district gave money to range from school building improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act at Fletcher Miller Special School, from new school health centers to a new district position to help work on safety in schools. One school, Stott Elementary, will create a “tinker lab” where students will have space and supplies to work on projects as part of the school’s project-based learning model.

The Jeffco school board approved $1 million for the awards earlier this year. It was an idea proposed by Superintendent Jason Glass as a way of encouraging innovation in the district. This spring process is meant as a test run. The board will decide whether to continue investing in it once they see how the projects are going later this spring.

Officials say they learned a lot already. Tom McDermott, who oversaw the process, will present findings and recommendations to the board at a meeting next month.

If the board agrees to continue the innovation fund, McDermott wants to find different ways of supporting more of the ideas that educators present, even if there aren’t dollars for all of them.

That’s because in this first process — even though educators had short notice — teachers and other Jeffco staff still completed and submitted more than 100 proposals. Of those, 51 ideas scored high enough to move to the second round of the process in which the applicants were invited to pitch their ideas to a committee made up of Jeffco educators.

“We’re extremely proud of the 10,” McDermott said, but added, “we want to be more supportive of more of the ideas.”

McDermott said he thinks another positive change might be to create tiers so that smaller requests compete with each other in one category, and larger or broader asks compete with one another in a separate category.

This year, the applicants also had a chance to request money over time, but those parts of the awards hang on the board allocating more money.

Kollar’s idea for the GED preparation program for instance, includes a request for $348,800 next year. In total, among the 10 awards already granted, an extra $601,487 would be needed to fund the projects in full over the next two years.

Awards for innovation fund. Provided by Jeffco Public Schools.

The projects are not meant to be sustained by the award in the long-term, and some are one-time asks.

Kollar said that if that second phase of money doesn’t come through for his program, it should still be able to move forward. School districts are funded per student, so by bringing more students back to the district, the program would at least get the district’s student-based budget based on however many students are enrolled.

A similar program started in Greeley this fall is funded with those dollars the state allocates to districts for each student. So far, eight students there already completed a GED certificate, and there are now 102 other students enrolled, according to a spokeswoman for the Greeley-Evans school district.

But, having Jeffco’s innovation money could help Kollar’s program provide additional services to the students, such as a case manager that can help connect students to food or housing resources if needed.

And right now Kollar is working on setting up systems to track data around how many students end up completing the program, earning a high school equivalency certificate, enrolling in a college or trade-school, or getting jobs.

Helping more students on a path toward a career is the gold standard, he said, and what makes the program innovative.

“It’s not just about if the student completes high school,” Kollar said. “It’s are we making sure we are intentionally bridging them into whatever the next pathway is?”