"Charter school tuition payments should be adjusted downward by the same percentage that a public school district's state aid is reduced should a reduction become enacted."
NYSUT and the UFT got their way. Charter school funding was "adjusted downward." Yet state aid to districts was increased. A win-win for the unions. The entire NYSUT testimony is here:
Randi Weingarten, the president of the NYC United Federation of Teachers, NYSUT's largest local, on Monday sent an "Open Letter to UFT Members in New York City Charter Schools and To The New York City Charter School Community" trying to explain the state budget's wallop to charter schools.
Ms. Weingarten wants her charter teacher membership to believe that her organization "labored long and hard to protect" charter schools and all public education in the City. Not exactly.
In fact, the NYSUT-UFT proposal presented to the state legislature in January to freeze charter funding next year at current-year levels is exactly what was included in the state budget. This proposal will cut $51 million from charter schools statewide, including $31 million for charters located in New York City.
To call this UFT letter "spin" would be an insult to spinmeisters, everywhere.
Meanwhile, school aid went up by more than $400 million, including $1.2 billion added to the Governor's proposal. Yet, Ms. Weingarten claims "all schools will be frozen at this year's education funding." Wrong. Only charter schools are "frozen." District school aid is going up, and they can levy taxes to spend even more if they choose. Charters don't have that luxury to make up for their crippling loss.
Charter Funding Gap Made Worse
Charter schools already get 30 percent less than district schools (unless they locate in district space). This inequity will be made worse since almost all their funding comes from a statutory formula based on district operating spending. School districts, by contrast, get funded by state aid and local taxes. In New York City's case, only half or less of its budget comes from state aid. Even if there was no aid increase for districts, this would have far less of an impact than for charters.
The point of this is that Randi Weingarten's organization, as part of NYSUT, urged the state legislature to impose this funding "freeze" on charter schools by making a false equivalence between charter funding and state aid. The legislature complied.
The result will bring real harm to many, including faculty who labor in charters - the very individuals NYSUT and UFT purport to represent (or seek to represent) as members, and from whom they collect union dues. Whatever that is, it's not "in solidarity."
Living in Make-Believe
Part of Ms. Weingarten's response to these unassailable facts is to deny them and change the subject. For example, she writes that "leaders in the charter school movement" were asked to fight against school cuts and to fight for the stimulus package in Washington. "They declined" she says. This is nonsense. Her statement that charter leaders "opposed" UFT's efforts in the CFE case is more fiction.
Just who exactly are these nebulous leaders "reached out to" by Ms. Weingarten? She doesn't say. The truth is charter leaders were very involved the stimulus debate in D.C. through our National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and we strongly support President Obama's education agenda. Charter school leaders here in New York have always supported more education funding and, more directly, equitable funding between charter and district schools. As a reminder, charter school organizations work for and are supported by...charter schools. District schools have plenty of their own groups, some of which need multi-story edifices to house their hundreds of employees.
Ms. Weingarten claims "[e]quity is important" and promises she will "vigorously support efforts to protect charter schools from a 'double cut' in two years." Talk is cheap. Her organization's "downward" charter funding proposal being enacted in the state budget makes this commitment a cruel joke. Her pledge to reform the charter funding formula was made in her last "open letter" in February also rings hollow. I hope I'm proven wrong on UFT's commitments, and will be mirthful in the process.
Charter advocates do not "stand on the sidelines," Ms. Weingarten. Charter leaders and organizations have been neck deep in the fight to advance the interests of charter schools. By contrast, the unions have been working against charters for a decade, right through to last weekend's budget deal, whether it's opposing the cap lift on the number of charters, undermining their litigation against the duplicative State Comptroller audits, or cutting their funding for next year. It's all on the record.
Teachers Should Consider
Randi Weingarten and her union counterparts in Buffalo persuaded charter teachers on opposite ends of the state not to proceed with press conferences planned in February to call on UFT and NYSUT to rescind their proposal to the legislature to adjust "downward" charter funding. They owe those teachers an apology.
How should unionized charter teachers feel today? Will they take at face value another UFT "open letter" or consider the contrary facts of the union's anti-charter funding position finding its way in the state budget for next year?
The option of teachers to join or not join a union should be their choice, and respected. Those who join UFT or other NYSUT local also should know the hard truth of the political agenda of these groups before their hard-earned dues subsidizes that agenda.
for The Chalkboard
P.S. Randi: Gov. "Patterson" uses one "t" rather than two.
Inadvertently or otherwise, charter school supporters, Gov. David Paterson and State Senate Majority Leader, Malcolm Smith, over the weekend agreed with Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, to cut charter school funding levels for 2009-10 by freezing it to current-year amounts. That's a cut of approximately $50 million from what charter schools were told they would receive under a state formula that has been part of the Charter Schools Act since its adoption in 1998 (and untouched by lawmakers until this week).
Meantime, the joint statement yesterday (Sun.) by the three men announcing the state budget agreement boasted of adding $1.2 billion in education funding over current year levels. Districts get more while charters get virtually nothing.
Four other modest, cost-free charter school proposals were simultaneously dropped while the funding cut was acquiesced to by our allies.
It's one thing to be told you can't get modest changes to the law. After all, three parties must agree. But only one party, either the Governor OR the Senate Majority Leader, needs to say "no" to keep something from hurting you. Neither one said it when crunch time came and it mattered the most.
Meanwhile, school districts will get more money next year not only from the state and federal governments, but can raise property taxes if they feel they need. Charters, on the other hand, have their primary funding source frozen and cannot levy taxes. Nor can much be expected from the philanthropic community which is suffering from this economic downturn.
This means that the funding gap between charter schools and districts, already about 30 percent, will further widen thanks to this state budget deal.
What about Speaker Silver? Isn't he culpable, too? Of course, he is, but that was no mystery. The Speaker has certainly shown to be the driving force on issue after issue.
We may hear some perfunctory justification for this, no doubt. After all, the state is in a serious economic crisis, and state foundation aid to school districts was frozen, too. Shouldn't charter schools take a hit as well? This simplistic rationale omits several key facts: 1) foundation aid is only two-thirds of school aid and drives a much lower percentage of district spending; 2) charter funding always was based on school district operating spending, but while such spending has and continues to increase, charters will now stay frozen; and 3) charters already start with less than districts, and this funding inequity has now been made worse.
What of the teacher unions' role? The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which includes the New York City UFT, were driving this train, make no mistake. Their January 28th testimony to the state legislature urged it to freeze charter school funding and that's exactly what happened, costing charters about $50 million next year. This sell-out to their union membership in charter schools is no coincidence, and there should be no doubt remaining in anyone's mind that NYSUT and UFT do not have charter teachers' interests at heart -- just their dues deduction.
What can be done? Charter schools should contact their state senators and Assembly representatives, and also should go directly to Gov. Paterson and Sen. Smith to fix this injustice and demand restoration.
Charters should demand nothing less from their representatives in state government. We already serve disproportionately at-risk students and outperform districts on less money. Gov. Paterson and Sen. Smith always understood that and supported us, except for last weekend when we needed them most.
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On the one hand, it's good to see a Board not rubber-stamp what the staff wants, since a bureaucracy is not immune to having its own agenda. A governing Board sometimes has a wider lense to view a situation and make its own judgment. On the other hand, it's hard to see why after ten years in operation, New Covenant deserves more time to improve itself. Ten years is a long time to get things right, and New Covenant has done just about everything wrong at least once in a decade. The Institute had enough, understandably so. But, the case also can be made that its mediocre test scores are finally heading in the right direction. What's another year?
Closing a charter school is never easy. But SUNY has done this before in less deserving cases. Last year in Schenectady, the Institute recommended and the SUNY Board agreed not to renew the International Charter School of Schenectady, after six (not 10) years in operation. That school also had numerous problems, including firing a management company and trying to transition to a self-managing school. However, the school also made a number of promising changes and its test scores justified a short-term renewal.
By contrast, New Covenant has fired two management companies, and is on its third. Its test scores compared to the Albany school district average also are a mixed bag, with a lower percentage of students meeting standards in English for most grade levels, but higher results than the district in mathematics.
The inconsistency in treatment of these two schools within one year of each other makes one wonder: either the SUNY Trustees are inconsistent in their application of standards, or they improved from last year's baleful treatment of the only charter in Schenectady by giving more time and attention to New Covenant. For example, there were several meetings between SUNY and Institute officials and the New Covenant officials, which is a positive sign that every consideration was given to afford the school a chance to make its case. Schenectady was not so fortunate. The Institute, however, does not agree, and stands by its treatment of Schenectady.
New Covenant's current management company, Victory Schools, Inc., is in its third year of running the school. Victory took on the enormous task of trying to turn this school around and save this option for its 600 students, of which at least 400 reside in Albany and do not wish to return to district schools (which says something about Albany's schools). It made enough progress that bought the school another year, in the view of the SUNY Board.
One glimmer of hope for New Covenant resides a few miles further up the Hudson River, at the Ark Community Charter School in Troy. One year ago, the Institute recommended that school also close. The SUNY Board also disagreed with the recommendation and granted one more year. This past January, the Institute switched gears and rightly recommended a full five-year renewal, which the SUNY Board granted. That was quite a turnaround for the Ark, to go from death's door to a five-year renewal in about 10 months time, which makes me wonder what the Institute's review missed last year when it tried to close the school.
New Covenant could follow suit next year. The challenge, however, will be tougher than what the Ark faced. New Covenant is a larger, more difficult school to manage and make changes, and has a longer, more visible history of problems. Among them has been high turnover in school leadership, which makes it difficult even for an effective leader to come in and implement changes in a short time period.
Now the Board of Regents is required by law to review and comment on every charter school application, and they will get to do so on New Covenant by the summer. Never in its 10-year history has the Regents voted affirmatively on this school, so it's hard to imagine them doing so now. Instead, the Regents will vote to return New Covenant's renewal application to SUNY, after which SUNY will have to take yet another vote over the summer to keep the school open.
This ping-pong approach to charter approvals is a necessary by-product of the different authorizing entities that can approve a charter. Ultimately it's a good process, even if cumbersome at times.
Another year of mixed results at New Covenant will almost certainly not be sufficient to keep the school going, as it appears to have used up its chits with today's SUNY vote. But SUNY has talked tough on New Covenant before, and it lives on for another year's reprieve.
for The Chalkboard
AYP, NCLB, SES, LEA, SINI (rhymes with) DINI, and SRAP & DRAP. All eight of these appeared in one -- just one -- press release from the State Education Department on March 17. I did not include NYSED since some agency had to tell us all of this.
This acronym overdrive was included in the listing of the number of failing public schools in the state, which I will attempt to explain.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandates that schools make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Schools that fail to do so get labeled Schools In Need of Improvement (SINI) and districts that fail this yardstick get labeled Districts In Need of Improvement (DINI).
Presumably, a DINI would have more than a few SINIs; and small districts with only one or two schools that were SINIs would make a district a DINI? Get it?
Then there are Schools Requiring Academic Progress (SRAP) and Districts Requiring Academic Progress (DRAP), which aren't as bad as SINI and DINI, but have an analgous connection, that is, too many SRAPs make a DRAP and just one or two SRAPs could mean a DRAP in a small district. You get the picture.
You probably figured by now that a SINI can become a SRAP (that's good!), but, then again, a SRAP could become a SINI (that's bad).
If you don't believe me, the NYSED said so: "Of the 122 schools identified as SRAP, 12 schools that had been SINIs were moved to the SRAP list ... Conversely, four schools that now receive Title I funds moved from SRAP to SINI status." You can take that to the bank.
Wait. I almost forgot that Local Educational Agencies (LEA) are generally school districts, and problem ones that don't make AYP (see above) have to provide Supplemental Education Services (SES) to students.
That means DINIs and DRAPs are LEAs, and SINIs and SRAPs (along with DINIs and DRAPs) have SES requirements.
A charter school can be a SINI or SRAP (thankfully, only two currently are) and also are an LEA even though they can neither be a DINI or DRAP. (A little Theodore Geisel lingo!)
In case we missed something, the Department's release can be found on its website: http://www.oms.nysed.gov/press/SINI2009.htm
The failing schools list, released annually by the State Education Department, came out earlier this week and had fewer schools listed. That's the good news, I guess.
The Department stated: "The number of schools identified as either SINI or SRAP declined statewide from 719 in 2007-08 to 665 in 2008-09. The number of districts identified as DINI or DRAP declined from 68 to 61 during that period."
Wonderful. And just in time for Education Commissioner Richard Mills to make his exit after 14 years. As for any multi-year trend data? There was none handy in the release, so it's not readily known without digging if the current year drop from last year was still higher than, say, two or four years ago. That didn't make the release.
Anyway, let's not deny the Commissioner the chance to leave on a high-note. Lucky for him, he can free himself of the acronyms, PDQ (LOL).
Peter Murphy (PM)
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That was the message from teachers of the KIPP Academy Charter School in the Bronx and the KIPP Infinity Charter School in Manhattan to the United Federation of Teachers union, announced today. Both schools' faculties on March 18th (Wed.) submitted petitions signed by every teacher to the state Public Employment Relations Board to decertify the UFT as its negotiating representative.
"Decertification" of a union is the legal process for take-a-hike.
Of course, the teachers' joint statement issued this morning was more measured and did not castigate unions, nor should they. Rather, the statement included a recognition of unions by citing their "historical value."
The statement also mentioned, however, that UFT was acting on its own rather than in the interests of KIPP teachers it purports represent by failing to consult them before taking actions on their behalf. For example, the statement said that "UFT neither consulted nor informed the [KIPP Infinity] staff of its request" to begin collective bargaining negotiations with Infinity's managment. In addition, regarding KIPP Academy, the statement claimed: "a union-initiated grievance has been filed against [the school] without solicitation or support of the staff."
In other words, the UFT was serving its own ends, and not the teachers. So the teachers, by beginning the process of decertification with PERB, are saying "no thanks."
The question now is, will the UFT take "no" for an answer?
One of the selling points of unionization is that it facilitates proper communication between labor and management. Evidently, this was not the case at these two KIPP schools.
This decertification request comes on the heels of UFT's organizing the teachers at KIPP AMP in Brooklyn. The KIPP organization has challenged this organizing effort at the Brooklyn school, which also will be weighed by PERB. With these decertification petitions from the teachers in the Manhattan and Bronx KIPP schools, will the KIPP AMP faculty reconsider their decision to sign cards to join the UFT?
The critical matter in all of this is to respect and maintain the choice of teachers to organize, not to organize or change their mind about organizing (decertify). It should be their choice as mature adults, not a legal mandate one way or the other. In addition, when teachers make decisions like this, it is important they have all the facts about their decision, pro and con, so they are fully informed.
Arguably, New York law stacks the deck against management in this regard under the legal requirement of "employer neutrality"; that is, school management cannot make a contrary case against unionization while the union uses campaign-like literature and promises to get teachers to sign up.
The Public Employee Relations Board just got its in-basket raised higher with all the goings-on at KIPP schools in New York City, and will have to sort through it all in the coming months.
Hopefully, the teachers and students come out the winners.
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More significantly were the several education reform measures espoused by the President that are commonplace among New York's 115 charter schools in operation, and the 30 approved schools opening in the next 18 months. These include merit pay for teachers, and removing "bad teachers out of the classroom." He also discussed longer school days and years, urging us to "rethink the school day to incorporate more time" and spoke of getting beyond the agarian school year when we were more of a nation of farmers.
Even the President's seemingly abstract discussion of using data systems to improve instruction had a ring to anyone operating or seeking approval of a charter school in New York. Good data systems, he said, can be used to "track how much progress a student is making and where that student is struggling – a resource that can help us improve student achievement, and tell us which students had which teachers so we can assess what’s working and what’s not."
By embracing these common-sense reforms, along with high accountability and rigorous standards, it's no surprise that President Obama embraces charter schools since theses policies are ubiquitious in charters.
So, what's not to like?
For some, it's the charter school part of the speech, which, if you add the charter-like features, made up about half the speech itself.
The New York State United Teachers, for example, took issue with President Obama on several fronts, including merit pay and charters. NYSUT President, Richard Iannuzzi considers charter schools a "drain" on "mainstream public education." After all the progress of charter schools, and the growing bipartisan concensus on their success, Mr. Iannuzzi is still working off decade-old talking points.
Mr. Iannuzzi sees charter schools claim on public tax money is illegitimate by supposedly siphoning tax money from public schools -- except that charters are public schools, and the children in them have every right to public funds as those in the district.
Even more absurd is Mr. Iannuzzi's assumption, told to the Jamestown Post Journal, that if charter schools work, "you can bring it into the public schools, and then you don't need the charter schools.'' Really?
How many district schools operate longer than 180 days? Nearly every charter does.
How many district schools have a longer school day? Nearly every charter does.
How many district schools scrapped tenure, enabling them to remove "bad teachers out of the classroom?" In fact, NYSUT last year got the legislature to repeal Gov. Spitzer's modest tenure reform. Not a single non-conversion charter school I'm aware has tenure.
And what of merit pay? This common feature in charters is inimical to NYSUT's President who thinks it should not exist to reward individual teachers for their performance. Rather, it should be given to the school as a whole. That's not merit pay; it's more school aid, and he should say so.
It looks like we will have to wait a while before we bring those charter characteristics into the the district schools. Until then, New York very much needs charter schools.
It's unfortunate that while NYSUT organized more than a dozen charter school faculties in the state, they continue to criticize charters in the state Capitol, calling for funding cuts and claiming they are a "drain" on "mainstream public education." Thankfully, President Obama has a different view.
Now, this week Mr. Iannuzzi penned an op-ed in the Times Herald-Record saying NYSUT is "open to charter schools." That would be nice. Certainly NYSUT has been open to more dues-paying members (a "drain" on teachers' paychecks?).
However, if Mr. Iannuzzi's new openness to charters is real, coming perhaps after further thought on the President's superb speech, hopefully it will finally cause NYSUT to rethink its ten-year hostility to charter schools. Certainly that would be better for their dues-paying charter member teachers. Then maybe we can all concentrate more on making even better public schools, and argue less in the political arena.
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Charter School Founder OR Charter School $ Cutter?
Can these be the same people?
Randi Weingarten, the powerful head of the American Federation of Teachers and its largest local, the New York City United Federation of Teachers (UFT), wrote a February 18th letter to her City's charter school membership to quell a fledgling effort by some teachers to demand its union oppose cutting charter school funding.
Ms. Weingarten was asked by charter supporters to oppose the position of the UFT's state parent organization, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), urging the state legislature to cut funding for charter schools if school aid to districts gets cut. Ms. Weingarten also happens to a board member of NYSUT, giving her a local, state and national union pedigree. (Very few persons can boast of having their fingers in all three major levels of government! In fact, no one else comes to mind.)
Several charter school teachers who are UFT and/or NYSUT members in New York City and Buffalo were preparing to hold a press conference to call on their union to stop its anti-charter efforts in the state Capitol and change its position on funding.
Since when in the last 30 years has a union come out in favor of cutting funding for schools with its own dues paying members? Unions naturally and insatiably demand more, never less, except when it comes to charter schools!
This effort by teachers was stopped by UFT and NYSUT union officials at the last minute, which avoided them being publicly put on the spot by their own membership.
Now, Randi Weingarten wasn't foolish enough to present such anti-charter school testimony to the legislature during its budget hearings last January 28th. That was the familiar role of NYSUT's Executive Vice President, Alan Lubin, who two years ago also vigorously opposed then-Gov. Spitzer's proposal to raise the cap on the number of charter schools.
Instead, Ms. Weingarten sent the verbose, rhetorical 10-paragraph letter to her charter faculty membership that unfortunately did nothing to retract the NYSUT position to cut charter funding. No separation from its state parent. No retraction.
It is disappointing that Ms. Weingarten refused to call out her state colleagues, even though it would have supported her charter school faculty who would be the victims of such unfair funding cuts. Union, after all, means never having to disagree, I guess.
On the positive side, Ms. Weingarten did acknowledge the financial pressures of charter schools and is "investigating ways to better match your schools pension obligation … to the profile of your faculty." Swell.
It's a start, but not enough.
The ongoing frustration is that nowhere does Ms. Weingarten acknowledge, even tacitly, that charters get one-third less funding than district schools, primarily due to lack of capital funds. This unfair funding inequity is reason alone for charter schools to be spared any funding formula reduction even if the state cuts school aid to districts.
Simply put: charters already get less funding; charters already are treated unequally from districts.
If school districts get state aid cuts, they will still get more funding than charter schools do on a per pupil basis (not to mention the extra millions of dollars from the federal Stimulus bill). And, districts have other large sources of funding, including local and federal revenues. Charters, by contrast, cannot levy taxes and get a tiny portion of their funds from Washington, primarily Title I monies.
If the charter formula is changed, it should be increased to give equal funding for charter schools, rather than less.
Randi Weingarten herself is the founder of the UFT charter school, authorized by the SUNY board to serve K-8 students at separate locations. As such, she has obvious savvy and outside-the-box behavior. This alone argues that she shouldn't tolerate the anti-charter positions of her Albany colleagues at NYSUT.
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So said President Barack Obama this week (Mar. 10) to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington where he outlined his education vision and agenda for America. It was impressive not just because he's a great orator (we knew that already), but because of the content of the speech.
This speech had just about everything, including lofty rhetoric without getting windy, and a comprehensive coverage of specific education issues without sounding like he was reading someone elses' laundry list.
The President specifically embraced charter schools as a strategy to promote "excellence and innovation." He also urged states to remove or lift caps on the number of charters which, of course, includes New York with its cap of 200 (50 remain available for new charters). More incisively, he noted that caps exist to limit charter schools "no matter how well they are preparing our students...[t]hat isn't good for our children, our economy, or our country."
It couldn't read or sound any better.
Two years ago, the New York state legislature finally lifted the charter cap after a two- to three-year struggle by charter advocates. Then-Gov. Spitzer used his political capital to propose a cap lift and got it done. Another cap-lift fight looms in the near future and President Obama has now made the case as well as anyone. True, New York has more and more legislators embracing charter schools, including the new Senate Majority leader, Malcolm Smith - himself a charter school founder before his election to the Senate in 2000; and veteran Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who already introduced legislation (A.5524) to remove the cap altogether.
Unfortunately, despite this growing support for charter schools, especially among a new generation of elected Democratic leaders from the President on down, the teacher unions are in no such mood. The cap exists in the first place at the behest of the New York State United Teachers, and NYSUT fought vigorously in 2006 and 2007 to keep it from doubling.
Which brings us to other areas in the speech. It's striking how many issues the President embraced that mirror the very characteristics of charter schools, including longer school days and years; using data systems to track student academic progress, and having the ability to reward exceptional teachers with merit pay while being able to "move bad teachers out of the classroom." He went on, "I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences."
President Obama did not have to take on the powerful teacher unions. He did anyway. That demonstrates his focus is where it belongs: on the children, not the adults in or outside the system. This political courage from a chief executive, be it the president or a governor, is the key factor in birthing a reform movement and sustaining it over time. This is because large unions have a tighter grip on state legislators who typically find it more difficult to buck them.
Rock the Cradle, Rule the World
Finally, my favorite part of this speech was not about charter schools, accountability, or the distinctly patriotic flair in his opening. Rather, it's when President Obama discussed his late mother.
The President recalled his time as a boy growing up in Indonesia, where his mother supplemented his schooling with lessons from a correspondence course, since he was unable to attend other schools for lack of money (more on that irony, later) where other American children attended. His mother would daily wake him at 4:30 a.m. to go over lessons before school. He would understandably complain and his mother would respond: "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
It began there for him. "Because she did this day after day, week after week...that I can stand here today as President of the United States."
Well said, Mr. President. Your mother deserved that.
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Regent Arnold Gardner, also from western New York (Buffalo), is stepping down from the board after finishing his second 5-year term this month.
Both men have been dedicated, volunteer public servants for many years, and true gentlemen. Bennett has served on the Regents since 1995 and Chancellor since 2002. Gardner has been a Regent since 1999 and also served on the State University of New York board of trustees in the 1990s.
The state Board of Regents is the policymaking board for all aspects of education: public, private, higher and lower, as well as the professions; hence, the formal name of the entity they oversee is entitled the "University of the State of New York." Membership on the 16-person board is by appointment of the state legislature; specifically, both houses meeting in joint session vote a member from each of the 12 judicial districts in the state, along with four at-large, statewide members.
The largest group of legislators are the Assembly Democrats, numbering 109 of the 212 combined membership. As a result, they effectively select the Regents.
Though the Regents are selected by the same group of legislators, there is still quite a bit of diversity on issues among them which reflect the regional backgrounds and various professional experiences, for example.
On charter schools, this divergence is common. Probably the best example of disagreement on the Regents board is between these western New York neighbors, Chancellor Bennett and Regent Gardner. The Chancellor has been the strongest, most consistent supporter of charter schools on the board since the adoption of the law in 1998. By contrast, Regent Gardner has been one of the board's most vocal opponents of charter schools.
In my observation, Bennett appears to embrace diverse means of providing public education, especially in places like Buffalo where the school district has been ineffective for years. Gardner believes the school district is the primary, if not exclusive mechanism for providing public education, and charter schools should not exist apart from the district's blessing. Thus, Gardner has supported Westminster Community Charter School and Enterprise Charter School, both of which were approved first by the Buffalo Board of Education.
One example of their disagreement on charters occured at the Regents meeting in December 2005 when the Elmwood Village Charter School proposal was on the agenda. Gardner spoke against approving the school while Bennett spoke in favor. It was a riveting discussion, free of acrimony, yet with contrasting education visions on full public display.
The Regents tend to vote on a regional issues -- in this case, a Buffalo charter school -- by deferring to the wishes of the Regent from the area. Problem was that both men were from the same area and disagreed. Happily, from a charter standpoint, Elmwood Village was approved and is today one of the highest performing public schools in Buffalo.
One veteran reporter I spoke with afterward was hugely impressed by the discussion, which rarely occurs in any Albany governmental setting where public meetings can be forever tedious. Not that December day.
Best wishes, and thanks to both men for their service.
for The Chalkboard
Not everyone can resemble a famous actor. But can actors pretend with numbers?
Buffalo News Ramps Up Charter Funding Debate
Gary Crosby, the Chief Financial Officer of the Buffalo Public Schools, on Feb. 22nd responded to my op-ed from the prior week in the Buffalo News which was critical of his scapegoating of charter schools for the district's financial woes.
Mr. Crosby claimed neither he, nor his boss, Superintendent Williams, are anti-charter. This is good. Still, Mr. Crosby misses several key points in the charter funding debate, including the following:
- Crosby wrongly claims charters receive the "same per pupil amount the district spends." In fact, charters are receiving one-third to 40 percent less than the Buffalo district and this gap is not made up by district administrative costs or in-kind support of transportation or textbooks, as Crosby claims - not even close. The primary reason for the gap is that charters must fend for themselves for facility leases and capital improvements since they get no building funds.
- Charter schools are spending less than the district because they get less than the district. Crosby instead claims they do so because their expenses are less, which rings like the chicken-and-the-egg/cart-before-the-horse argument (pick your metaphor). In fact, charters cannot run up expenses the way Buffalo has for decades because they can't tax property nor expect the state to bail out their excesses. Thus, charters have to manage well by attracting talent while restraining expenses to avoid bankrupting themselves. With less funding they have managed to outperform the district schools on state exams results.
- Crosby claims he is "not taking issue with the money charters receive." He instead claims that he doesn't like the way charters are funded by the district. What Crosby fails to consider is that if the state assumes charter funding, it will invariably cut Buffalo's school aid that now includes charter students since the state will not -especially in this fiscal climate - pay twice forever for the same students. This is a key reason the funding was set up this way in the first place. Crosby must be counting on the state holding harmless Buffalo's school aid - a risky assumption at best.
- Unfortunately, Mr. Crosby still won't acknowledge that the funding system he pines for, in reality, already exists for Buffalo. The Buffalo district is a pass-through since state aid on a proportionate basis more than covers district charter expenses. No other district with charter schools has as lopsided state aid ratio as Buffalo, which effectively removes any local expense for charter students.
- As residents of the district, the most efficient mechanism to fund charter students is by the district, which in turn is provided state foundation aid, transportation aid, textbook aid, and state transition aid to offset charter expenses. This also is necessary since charter schools are not governmental entities with taxing authority to make up for a reduction in state funding. In Buffalo's case, district charter expenses are offset entirely by the state.
- The claim that Buffalo cannot realize commensurate savings from the loss of charter students is a long-shopworn excuse that has no merit after 15 percent of the student body (6,000 students) has departed district schools for charters.
Charter schools are certainly a competitive challenge to any school district, since they compete to serve resident students. The state has softened this competition by increasing school aid to those districts, which is never acknowledged by district administrators anywhere in the state. In this sense, Mr. Crosby is predictably similar to his district counterparts elsewhere.
Charter schools certainly do not wish to be adversarial with their districts, since both have responsibilities to serve and educate students. Buffalo charters, from all I can tell, want nothing more than to work cooperatively with the Buffalo Public Schools, including Mr. Crosby and his colleagues, to better fulfill their vital and mutual responsibilities.
Mr. Crosby and Superintendent Williams no doubt have a very difficult task in managing the second largest school district in the state, with all the challenges a low-wealth, urban setting brings. They didn't create the legacy costs and other pre-existing problems, but they also accepted the job to address them. I wish them the best, and hope they will use charters as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
For the Chalkboard
Barbara Lifton; not to be confused with Lipton of Mod Squad Fame
There is a Better Way to Deal with This
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton doesn't like charter schools, and wants you to know it.
The New Roots Charter School, approved by the State University to open in August, will locate in Ithaca, in the heart of Ms. Lifton's assembly district.
Assemblywoman Lifton was a member of the New York State United Teachers, the Ithaca Teachers Association, the PTA and the Ithaca Hockey Boosters (a "Hockey Mom?!"). This establishment background usually doesn't square with charter schools, so it's not shocking to find her in opposition to New Roots.
Fortunately for public schools, the approval process has been mostly free of politics. Hence, the determination was made that the New Roots Charter School fulfilled the purposes of the Charter Schools Act and thus worthy of approval.
Now, Assemblywoman Lifton has introduced a bill, A.6447 (actually, copied a Senate proposal) to legislatively revoke the New Roots charter before it opens.
Assemblywoman Lifton: call your lawyers. The U.S. Constitution - Article I, section 10 to be exact - prohibits states from "impairing the obligation of contracts." That is what a charter is - a legally binding contract between SUNY and the charter school's founders.
A little thing like the constitution isn't going to prevent a legislator from introducing a bill to violate it. It happens, but they don't get far in the process. Ironically, Ms. Lifton is usually a more measured legislator by, for example, fighting to keep the local Workers' Compensation office open or advocating on behalf of the mentally ill.
What is further poisonous about this, if enacted, is that it also would prevent 29 other approved charter schools from opening elsewhere in the state, mostly in New York City, to the chagrin of many of her fellow legislators.
There is a better way.
In 2007 the state doubled the number of charter schools allowed and with it, provided extra school aid to districts with new charters or added charter enrollment. Assemblywoman Lifton voted for this bill, which actually was part of the state education budget so it contained dozens of other provisions.
If New Roots Charter School attracts approximately 110 Ithaca students, or 2 percent of the district's public school enrollment, it will generate another $1 million in state aid on a lag basis to offset 80 percent of the charter expenses. This funding will be the topping on the state aid already generated by charter students since they remain in the Ithaca's school aid count.
Conversely, if the charter school only gets 100 Ithaca students, slightly below the 2 percent threshold, kiss that extra million goodbye in 2010 since the district won't qualify.
State school aid, and transition aid, deliberately cushions the impact of the charter school on school districts, whether the Ithaca schools superintendant acknowledges it or not. Assemblywoman Lifton would be more productive to get increased state aid to Ithaca, including transition aid, which would be a win-win for her constituents being served by the district and the charter school alike.
It's a better solution than introducing an unconstitutional bill that would do harm to thousands of students statewide.
For some investor/philanthropists, a great school leader or network leader is worth paying a bigger salary than the Chancellor of the New York City Schools.
Last week Daily News columnist Juan Gonzales wrote a hit piece on Eva Moskowitz, a former City Councilwoman and now head of the Success Charter School Network, which pointed out that she made (gasp!) more than $300,000 for each of the last two school years, which is more than the Chancellor Klein's $250,000 salary.
Mr. Gonzales dismissively compared Ms. Moskowitz running four new schools to Chancellor Klein "running 1,400 city schools" or SUNY Chancellor Jack Ryan "managing" 70 campuses.
Mr. Gonzales, neither Chancellor "runs" anything. They have others doing that. Rather, they each respectively oversees large public school and university systems - important jobs, to be sure, and worthy of a high salary on the public payroll.
Eva Moskowitz, by contrast, works for a non-profit organization that helped found four public schools, which has invested resources toward improving the City's public educational system for thousands of students in upper Manhattan. In fact, Ms. Moskowitz is the only charter founder that ever opened three charter schools simultaneously and successfully - something unprecedented in New York.
Ms. Moskowitz opened these three schools in part because the organizations headed by Chancellors Ryan and Klein approved her plans to do so; the first by approving her applications, the latter by providing building space.
Mr. Gonzales' hit piece against Ms. Moskowitz questions why she earns what she does. Yet he fails to understand the herculean efforts to start the charter network nor does he connect the investment by the officers of the Success Charter Network, including Joel Greenblatt and John Petry, toward expanding public school opportunities that thousands of parents in Harlem are demanding. Did Mr. Gonzales observe the Harlem parents attending the education fair last weekend? There are plenty of district school administrators making six-figure salaries that these parents obviously want no part.
Eva Moskowitz was a gutsy pro-education Councilwoman who went onto building a public education network of charter schools to improve the options in Harlem for thousands of families. It's early, but the signs are positive that her students are meeting and exceeding state performance standards. Children learning, not her salary, is what counts. If private-sector money subsidizes the schools in the process, why should Juan Gonzales or anyone else paint such a negative portrait?
Would that the charter school movement had more gutsy former politicians getting paid well to create and oversee great public schools. It's worth it.
Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.