In reality, this would make Buffalo's financial condition worse by costing the district more money - obviously not what Rumore had in mind. This is because charter school students are counted as district enrollment for state school aid purposes. Any state takeover of charter funding would remove these students from the district's aid count, and correspondingly lower state aid by more than Buffalo's charter spending.
The truth is that Buffalo is getting more than 80 percent of its budget financed by state taxpayers through school aid. If any other school district comes close to this lopsidedly favorable percentage, I'm not aware. Yet folks like Rumore and others in the district keep pleading poverty. An aid ratio this high enables the district to make money on charter school students since they cost less per student than the state aid they generate for the district.
One counter argument I've heard is that the "save harmless" provision in state aid would never allow school aid to drop for Buffalo if the state assumed the charter expense and lowered the enrollment count. I would not bet on this since the state--especially in tough fiscal times--is highly unlikely to pay double for the same students in perpetuity.
In 2007, the state enacted a new school aid revenue for districts called "transition aid for charter school payments" which pays extra to districts like Buffalo for added charter school enrollment, with such payments phased out over a four-year period. This extra aid helps school districts adjust to new charter expenses, over and above the aid they already receive for charter enrollment. Unfortunately, it didn't stop districts from complaining even though they have been paid nearly twice the aid levels for charter students.
More money is never enough for some when it comes to school district competition from charter schools.
"Equal" Funding Among School Districts?
As long as school districts levy property taxes, education funding will never be "equal" among all districts. Wealthier districts will decide how much they want to contribute to their public school systems, and that will always exceed poor districts. Low-wealth school districts get more state aid per pupil to mitigate the funding gap, but the gap will always exist. The key for the legislature is to ensure that low-wealth districts get a requisite amount for students to get a quality education. How much this amounts to is what legislatures debate each and every year.
for The Chalkboard
The Mayor called for immediate removal of the ban on using test data for making tenure decisions; elimination of the cap on the number of charter schools, raising pay for high-quality science, math and special education teachers; and making it easier to fire bad teachers. Some of the Mayor's ideas will require him standing firm on the collective bargaining negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers, especially as it relates to firing bad teachers sooner and higher pay differentials for science and other teachers in subjects with greater specialty and demand. But the state can be helpful here as well by relaxing laws protecting incompetent teachers and providing school district incentives to pay more for certain subject teachers.
New York Dithering as Deadline Approaches
Regarding the federal Race to the Top program, New York state has been dithering, to borrow a phrase. It takes several high-profile people to agree on policy for the state to have a competitive application for this funding. Yet the urgency for action was not apparent even though it was expected the state legislature was going to return to Albany in November. That would have been the time to make statutory changes that are now increasingly viewed as necessary, including by Mayor Bloomberg and it appears Secretary Duncan himself. Oh well, the legislature has come and gone, and Race to the Top was not on its radar and no one in the executive branch--Governor Paterson or Chancellor Tisch--tried putting it there.
The Post today is putting the spotlight on Chancellor Tisch, but she is not the only one, nor can she change any laws. In fact, the Regents are arguably an arm of the Assembly since they are effectively appointed by that legislative body. And, to be fair, Chancellor Tisch is showing leadership in reforming teacher training and has publicly expressed her support for charter schools. The Governor, Senate leadership and Assembly Speaker all must act in the next six weeks to make the kind of changes outlined by Mayor Bloomberg to have a better chance at serious federal money coming in spring -- just when we'll need it most.
The Elephant in the Room
Why this group-think on Race to the Top by New York's policymakers? I believe the elephant in the room is the teacher unions that wield enormous influence on the Board of Regents, at state Education Department and in both houses of the legislature. President Obama and his Education Department are encouraging reforms at the state level through Race to the Top that the unions typically hate, and probably would have no chance for enactment without this President willing to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington.
Ironically, it is the unions which also stand to gain with the new funding at stake in this competition. They should get out of the way of the Regents and legislature from moving quickly before mid-January to do what it takes to impress the Feds and get this funding. The kinds of changes necessary--raising the charter cap, removing the test ban and paying some science and other teachers more--won't exactly dismantle the union. What are they afraid of? It's just a little ed reform.
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FDR's 1st VP, John Nance Garner (L), had no use for the vice-presidency; but NYSUT's Dick Iannuzzi (R) sure loved hitching a ride on his successor's airplane!
"The vice presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm [bleep]!"
So said John Nance Garner, the first of FDR's three Vice Presidents. 'Ol "Cactus Jack" had a way of summing up his eight years on the job. Of course, that was before Air Force Two and other modern perks that make the job more interesting and perhaps relevant.
The vice presidency certainly seems relevant to Richard Iannuzzi, the head of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), who made a point of informing the readers of City Hall last week that he was a recent passenger on Joe Biden's jet. (Ordinary folk like the rest of us aren't so lucky.) This luxury flight afforded him a private audience with the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who also was along for the ride, where Mr. Iannuzzi made the pitch for New York getting a "major slice" of the $4.35 billion federal Race to the Top funding, according to City Hall (here).
Iannuzzi said the Secretary "indicated that there would be no barriers for applying for the funds." But, we knew that, without having to fly free on Air Force Two; so this revelation isn't worth a warm bucket of ... (you get the picture).
The problem for New York is its lack of real education reforms to make the state's application competitive. Education Commissioner David Steiner is seeking to remedy this by recommending major and impressive reforms in teacher training, data systems and other areas for the Regents to adopt before submission of the state's Race to the Top application in January.
Charter Points Matter in Very Competitive Race
This may not be enough in a very tight competition among the states. What also matters to the Feds is what states are doing with charter schools, which adds up to 40 points on the Department of Education's scoring rubric, or 8 percent of the total points for a Race to the Top grant. That is a lot of points, which puts New York at a disadvantage.
The state is about to reach its charter cap and a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education said it would no longer approve new charter schools until it's lifted. Charter schools also are not provided equitable funding and are being denied the federal Stimulus dollars due to the charter funding "freeze" imposed by the state legislature -- arguably a violation of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that required education Stimulus funds to be disbursed on an equitable basis to district and charter public schools alike.
These barriers on charter schools will penalize New York in a competition like this, risking hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. This needs to be understood and appreciated by Mr. Iannuzzi, the Regents, Governor Paterson and the legislature, particularly the Assembly. Dislike for charter schools from any of these camps is not worth continuing this months-long group-think on Race to the Top, as it will lead to spurning the Obama Administration's agenda and foregoing needed federal dollars to benefit all New York's students in public education.
In case anyone missed the subtlety, New York City Mayor Bloomberg included charter schools in his speech this morning in Washington, D.C. that outlined reform ideas for New York to adopt to compete for Race to the Top -- with Secretary Duncan at his side (see here).
It's Getting Late
Time is running out. The state will submit its Race to the Top application in seven weeks, with holidays intervening. The Regents should support a cap lift and facility funding for charters, among other reforms. The legislature can follow suit and get beyond any remaining phobia about more charters. After all, it raised the charter cap once before and there are plenty of existing administrative checks in place to ensure quality schools, including the Regents themselves which review and oversee all of them.
Charters have been successful for New York students for a decade, and they are key to President Obama's vision for states to reform public education. It's past time for New York's policymakers to understand this and do what it takes by mid-January for the state to submit the strongest application possible for Race to the Top.
for The Chalkboard
This is because the Regents and New York City Schools Chancellor will have reached their cap of 100 by early next year, as I wrote in the New York Post October 6th (and here) based on the number of charter schools already under review by the Regents.
A new report issued today by the New York City Charter School Center (here) further approximates that 40 planning teams are in the pipeline for the 18 remaining charters available from SUNY's cap of 100. The Center's report received media coverage today.
As a reminder, there are actually two charter caps: 100 for the Regents and 100 for SUNY, adding to the total of 200 typically reported in the media. The Regents will hit their own first, and SUNY likely will do so by the middle of next calendar year.
It takes at least two years from the time a charter school is prepared to when it gets open based on the months-long review and approval process combined with the planning time necessary to prepare for opening of a new school. (This was illustrated on page 6 of the Center's report).
Delay Means Loss
From the time a charter school is planned, it's usually longer since the process of assembling a planning team and piecing together a lengthy, detailed and worthy charter school application properly takes many months before submitting it to an authorizer. That's the rub; those essential efforts will be in limbo until the legislature gets around to raising the cap.
James Merriman, CEO of the Charter Center, rightly takes issue with the contention (expressed by state Education Commissioner David Steiner and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch) that the cap will be raised once it is reached. Merriman countered: "If you wait until every last charter is given to start talking about raising the cap, you will already have lost a year's worth of schools -- some of them forever."
In 2007-08, for example, only three new charter schools were opened that year, each of which were approved two years prior but used extra planning time. The reason? New York State hit its first cap of 100 (50 each for SUNY and the Regents) and none were approved for 18 months during 2006 and the first half of 2007 as we waited for the legislature to raise the cap.
That's why the legislature should raise it now, rather than six months or a year from now. With all the information we had in early 2007 demonstrating the effectiveness of charter schools (which convinced new Gov. Spitzer to push for a cap-lift), there is even more information today that further confirms the educational benefits for children.
Gov. Paterson Can Force Education Reform
Gov. Paterson missed the opportunity to put a charter cap lift proposal on his legislative agenda this month when he called the legislature back to Albany to cut state spending. Raising the cap would enhance the state's chances for Race to the Top funding, which New York desperately needs. Of course, the teacher unions, Regents and many state legislators don't want to be bothered with a cap lift, so he didn't bother.
It's not too late for the Governor to lead. Introducing a cap lift and other education reform measures to attract federal dollars will make his other budget cuts more palatable. The Governor also holds the kind of leverage his predecessors coveted: he can force a recalcitrant and pusillanimous Regents and legislature to do his bidding since he must give final sign-off on the state's Race to the Top application. In effect, he can force change in a pro-charter, education reform direction, if he wants.
Imagine that. He's got nothing to lose by doing so, and everything to gain.
for The Chalkboard
I have heard union officials repeat this falsehood verbally. Now it's in print. There is no truth to their claim whatsoever. Before attacking the Association this way, NYSUT should produce evidence. It won't, because it doesn't exist.
If the New York Charter Schools Association "opposed" the CFE litigation, presumably it would say so in its 2004 amicus brief it filed in court. In fact, the Association urged that charter schools also get equal funding, including facilities. Charter schools have neither.
NYSUT's fabrication about the Charter Association and CFE appears to have taken on the level of internal legend because the Union needs a response from its grab-bag to the fact it sought to cut charter school funding this year, and succeeded. At the same time, it continues to attempt to cajole more charter school teachers to join their union.
Great union strategy: get charter teachers to join and to pay the union, while simultaneously lobby the legislature to cut funding to those same schools so that union membership in district schools have more. When NYSUT gets exposed for this practice, it tries to change the subject by attacking the Association with make-believe and slander.
Making up fiction about the Charter Association's position on CFE should not obscure the fact that NYSUT is throwing charter teachers under the proverbial bus with its attack on charter funding.
NYSUT should cease and desist these fabrications so we can both focus on getting more resources for education - period.
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Last year the school had 88 percent of its students meeting state English standards and all of its students--100 percent--meeting mathematics standards. This is consistent with its high academic performance over time.
It is fiscally sound.
It has documented community support in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, community school district 16. No one showed up at the mandatory public hearing to oppose the school's renewal.
It has a longer school year and longer school day.
All of its students are African-American; nearly 70 percent of whom qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.
In sum, this is a highly-successful charter school by any standard.
The state Board of Regents today rejected its renewal application.
Thankfully, this is not the final step for the school to renew its charter and remain open. The reason? The State University of New York (SUNY) is its charter authorizer, not the Regents.
The Regents action came at the recommendation of the state Education Department (here). Technically, the Regents voted to "return" the renewal application to the SUNY Board of Trustees. SUNY can ignore the Regents action, resubmit the renewal application and, by operation of law, the Regents must issue the renewal incorporation for the school.
The state Charter Schools Act empowers SUNY to approve charter schools while also requiring the Regents to review all SUNY approvals. It can decide to approve them as well, or "return" them to SUNY with comments and recommendations for changes. Fortunately for Excellence Charter School, they ultimately didn't need the Regents' okay.
Why Did Regents Refuse Excellence Charter School?
State Ed and the Regents rejected this school because its renewal application was not fully "aligned" to state learning standards, meaning it did not address every jot and title of state curriculum strands. Then again, not all state curriculum standards are given an exam, so how important are they? This act by the Regents is getting tiresome, that is, demanding charter schools or school districts to require specific standards that are not important enough to warrant an exam.
Charter schools are about improving student outcomes; they are not suppose to be regulated on every curriculum strand, that is, the "inputs" of a school. Yet the Regents and State Ed have never been comfortable with this reality, and have a hard time historically thinking outside the "inputs" box to focus more on student outcomes.
What the Regents did today to Excellence Charter is the latest in a long line of bureaucratic ping-pong with SUNY-approved charter schools: to wit, the Regents "return" perfectly sound charter applications and renewals submitted by SUNY, only to have SUNY resubmit them to the Regents to be deemed approved by law.
State Law Requires Outcomes, not Inputs
The Charter Schools Act in Education law includes an objective for charter schools to provide "a change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems by holding schools ... accountable for meeting measurable student achievement results." In fact, nowhere does the Charter Schools Act mention "curriculum" or "learning standards," contrary to the decade-long imposition by the Regents. Rather, the law requires that a charter school's "education program shall meet or exceed the student performance standards adopted by the board of regents for other public schools" (emphasis mine).
Excellence Charter School of Bedford-Stuyvesant met these performance standards--student test scores outcomes--with flying colors. And it didn't matter that the school didn't use every single learning standard and curriculum benchmark drawn up and demanded by State Ed staff and the Regents.
Enough Bureaucratic Ping-Pong?
At the end of today's Regents meeting, when the school was voted down, there was hopeful discussion among the Regents and State Ed staff that they may finally be reconsidering their understanding (actually, misunderstanding) of what is required of charter schools, and what is sensible. In fact, there was definite discomfort at the Regents table that they were voting to send such an obviously successful school back to SUNY for specious reasons. I hope the Department's lawyers were paying attention.
Will the Regents finally ditch this meaningless charter approval criteria?
This school's academic success, and that of many other schools, demands that Regents break with this "embedded practice," as Regent Saul Cohen stated when he and his colleagues voted to hire Commissioner Steiner last summer. Here's hoping the Commissioner adds this one to his long to-do list.
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The Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement last week, admonished the state not to get presumptuous about its chances by averting real reforms in the application for federal Race to the Top funds. "Many state plans so far are promissory." Great choice of words, which is applied specifically to our state: "New York seems to think it can get by simply by passively letting its firewall law expire and phoning their application in" (emphasis mine).
DFER's Executive Director, Joe Williams, goes on: "Some members of New York's political leadership are actually bragging behind the scenes that the fix is in and that they will get a Race to the Top grant regardless of the integrity and ambitiousness of their school reform plan."
Mr. Williams made no specific references to New York's congressional delegation. But Tom Carroll of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability wrote in his Huffington Post column that it appears that is just what state policymakers are banking on.
"For months, rumors have circulated in New York political and education circles that U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer has received assurances from the Obama Administration that New York will receive a 'round one' grant from the highly competitive federal $4 billion Race to the Top competition for educational dollars." Mr. Carroll goes on to write that Schumer is "very close personally" to Regents Chancellor, Merryl Tisch, who views the federal grant as a high priority.
The U.S. Department of Education, he writes, denies the fix is in. Naturally. If it is, the Department would make a mockery of the encouraging and unambiguous public statements of its leaders, Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama.
The Daily News has a better idea in its editorial last Saturday: change laws now, beginning with repealing the ban on using student test data for tenure decisions and raising the cap on the number of charter schools in New York. That would be a start, yet there is no indication the state Education Department or Legislature intends any such thing, any time soon.
Commissioner Steiner Speaks to Charter School Operators
Education Commissioner David Steiner, last week, spoke to charter school operators gathered at the New York City Charter School Center, assuring them of his and Chancellor Tisch's support for charter schools, and that the cap will be raised when its reached, as it happened once previously.
In fact, it took 16 months after reaching the cap and a newly-elected Governor to get the legislature to raise it. At that time, the state Education Department was no help in pushing that boulder up hill, so hopefully it will help this time under its new leadership.
Despite this verbal support for charters, the Commissioner gave no indication that New York's Race to the Top application would include any charter initiatives. In fact, his priorities include fixing the state's flawed testing structure and teacher preparation programs, both of which he is expert.
The Commissioner is not going to get ahead of his boss, Chancellor Tisch, on charter schools. It will mostly be her decision and Governor Paterson's, on what is included in New York's Race to the Top application. We will know soon enough whether it will truly be "aggressively bold" or if they are "phoning it in."
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I like Mr. Martin's choice of words, both of which could be found on the English SAT exam. But he's mistaken on both counts, and more. The only one doing any "upbraiding" and "chastising" is Mr. Martin, who doesn't like it when I periodically correct the record on Albany's charter schools emanating from charter opponents in town. (Since we both enjoy the using vocabulary, "haranguing" and "rebuking" also could describe his letter; though "vilifying" would be too strong.)
Some of the falsehoods from Albany's residents toward charter schools are understandable, especially since Albany's former superintendent of schools (now heading a Catholic school in the City) made spreading them habitual in the media. The beat goes on from Mr. Martin who, for example, falsely claims in his letter that charter schools are "for-profit" when they are not.
As to charter school test results, they are quite impressive in Albany, which is a key reason more of them keep getting approved. In most grades, it is a charter school with the highest percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards in the city of Albany. Still, Mr. Martin writes that charter test scores are "not impressive;" which may have more to do with his emotions on the issue since it's contrary to the facts.
If it's really cost issues and property tax burdens that bother Mr. Martin and others (did he feel that way when he was a teacher?) consider the fact that charter schools educate students on far less than what Albany pays for district students. Charter schools get about $12,000 per year from the Albany district (which gets state aid for those students), while the district pays more than $20,000 per student in its own buildings.
Finally, Mr. Martin does concede my point that many district schools are under-enrolled. But he is willing to continue paying taxes for this ongoing inefficiency which he ascribes to physics. To wit, rather than Mr. Martin blaming Albany's families for voluntarily removing their children from these district schools to charters, it sounds better in his world to blame the charter schools for "siphon[ing] kids away from district schools."
Not even the most ardent charter school supporter believes charters exercise the power of physics over parental choice, but apparently some charter opponents do.
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Charter school funding equity and facilities funding--or lack thereof--also matters. Here again, New York State is derelict in this category.
Charter schools in New York are funded by a formula that calculates the "approved operating expenses" for each "total aidable pupil unit" in the resident district(s) of their students. This per-pupil calculation is from prior-year data and is inflated by the growth in statewide approved operating expenses to arrive at a reasonable current-year payment for charters for operating costs.
School district building expenses are not included in this calculation. That means all the money spent on debt service and other capital costs that benefits every district student does not accrue to a charter student living in the same school district.
The result is that charter schools are short-changed by this formula by approximately one-third the true cost of educating a student, every one of whom needs a roof over their head.
Charter schools in turn must use operating funds to pay lease costs or debt service for buildings, which has been an acute challenge particularly in New York City with its expensive real estate market. Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have stepped in to provide some charter schools access to district capital funds and most NYC charters are housed in district space to alleviate this challenge. But those arrangements are not permanent and could unravel. About one-third of the City's charter schools have their own space, and pay dearly.
Other Charter States Provide Facilities Funding
Nearly a dozen other states provide facilities funding for charter schools, including Florida and Utah. Many more states allow charter schools to access credit enhancement or loan guarantee programs.
New York has none of these opportunities. The only source of state capital funds for New York charters has been piecemeal grants from the competitive state Charter School Stimulus Fund to assist charter schools to pay for build-out or rehab projects. But this fund has never exceeded $4 million in any year, and is used for other purposes besides capital. Moreover, this fund has been steadily cut back in recent years to cope with the state's fiscal crisis, even as the number of charter schools has proliferated.
Funding Inequity Exacerbated in 2009-10
Last April, when the state legislature enacted the current state budget, charter funding was frozen, costing charter schools $50 million that was due to them based on higher school district operations spending fueled by prior-year CFE-induced state school aid increases. Again, district students benefited from higher district spending that was due to charter students but denied this year by Gov. Paterson and the legislature -- making the funding gap worse between district and charter public schools.
School districts still got a modest state aid increase thanks to federal Stimulus funds, and also can raise funds locally if they choose. By contrast, charters got their funding frozen, and there is no sign of building aid any time soon.
This funding injustice should not bode well for New York's prospects for Race-to-the-Top, perhaps more than being capped out. Nor would an "aggressively bold application" by the state fix this shortcoming since addressing the funding gap requires legislative action.
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-Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
Secretary Duncan asked the correct question yesterday at a conference at Harlem Children's Zone regarding the statutory cap on charter schools, as reported in today's New York Post (here).
So far, key officials in New York treat this obvious answer like its a proverbial "3rd Rail."
Charter schools have had documented academic success for children throughout the state, which has been confirmed by outside studies; they are in high demand by parents; and they are schools which are held accountable, as a dozen or so have been closed in the last decade.
The Post reports that Duncan warned that federal Race to the Top dollars will be doled out only to places that "challenge the status quo."
Several important New York State officials appear perfectly content that the status quo is just fine, especially when it comes to charter schools. Governor Paterson has proposed nothing on charter schools to help secure this funding, even though he called the legislature back to Albany to enact mid-year budget cuts. Nor has there been much no movement in the legislature, though some discussion continues behind the scenes on legislation introduced by Assemblyman Hoyt and Senator Jeff Klein.
Education Commissioner David Steiner initially appeared in no rush to raise the charter cap, but we will know more later this week to see if the Secretary's remarks have an impact. Regents Chancellor Tisch last week promised an "aggressively bold application" for Race to the Top, but an application doesn't change state law; it's merely good intentions.
A strong application from New York would be an important start, but this Race to the Top issue is a train leaving the station and New York is not on board. Today's New York Times discussed how several states are taking this program seriously (here), with no mention of New York State.
Mixed Signals from Washington
One explanation for this disconnect between Duncan's admonitions and the lack of action in New York may be the mixed signals coming from Washington. New York officials are being told by various policymakers in Washington, in effect, "you're okay; you don't need to do anything." Yet Duncan and his boss, the President of the United States, show no signs publicly of backing down on the seriousness of the Race to the Top program and the innovation and education reform they want to see enacted at the state level.
Perhaps they need to remind their underlings to send the same message privately.
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Iannuzzi said he "disagree[s] with the accuracy of much of what the local leaders at [CSAT] wrote" about NYSUT. No surprise. Then comes his real message: "I support their advocacy for charter schools within our democratic union" (emphasis mine).
So, not to worry unionized charter teachers: your statewide president "supports" you advocating for your school! And, he supports you doing so "within our democratic union."
Translation: NYSUT charter school teachers lose.
The reason is simple: in a "democratic union" your voice will always been drowned out by being vastly outnumbered by NYSUT's district membership statewide, but also within just Buffalo or any other school district or community school district.
This subtle message from Iannuzzi should be loudly understood by all NYSUT faculty in charter schools. You're outnumbered, which means your interests take a backseat to those of school districts when it comes to education funding and any other competitive issues. Of course, this is what played out this year when NYSUT successfully urged the state legislature to cut charter funding so districts could instead keep that scheduled funding increase for charters.
Iannuzzi's message was only the first paragraph of his Buffalo News op-ed today. Much more can be said about the remainder of his article, but can he have any credibility in light of his opening? What good are his litany of assurances of support to charter faculty when he began by telling you, in effect, you'll be buried by his larger district membership?
Be glad, charter teachers in unionized schools for clarity: Richard Iannuzzi, your president, just telegraphed his reason for not supporting you now, or later when the rubber meets the road. How you react to this is up to you. Teachers at CSAT showed one of the ways.
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Gov. David Paterson put it on the line yesterday before a rare speech to a joint session of the state legislature (which never occurs during the year beyond the state of the state address in January).
"We're running out of cash," he said.
Keep in mind that just seven months ago, the legislature raised taxes by billions of dollars -- the largest series of tax hikes in modern state history; and received billions more in federal Stimulus money from the ARRA, courtesy of Congress and President Obama. The legislature, however, did not also reduce spending. They raised it with the additional money. With the lousy economy, especially in New York, much of the higher tax revenue has failed to materialize.
The Governor last month proposed to cut the mid-year deficit by more than $3 billion, including nearly $700 million from school districts. The last time a mid-year school aid cut was adopted was 19 years ago.
The New York Charter Schools Association came out against this mid-year education cut, and presented testimony at last week's public hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. NYCSA deems such mid-year cuts as unfair to school districts who take a series of actions following enactment of the state budget containing their respective aid figures for the year. All but the big five urban districts have residents vote on their school budgets in May, and subsequently levy the property tax rate. For the state to pull back those promised funds a couple of months later is disruptive to staff and programming that was set at the beginning of the year.
Charter schools know the feeling. They were told in February they would receive formula increases based on school district operations spending fueled by CFE-induced school aid increases. Instead, charters got their formula cut, resulting in $50 million lost. (More on this later.)
Budget Cut Omens
It is highly unlikely the legislature will act on any education cuts -- for now, no matter the admonitions from the Governor. The votes, particularly in the Senate, are not there. The 150-member Assembly has the votes since the Democrats with their 70 percent majority could muster 76 votes while allowing their most objectionable or marginal legislators a pass. By contrast, the Senate Democrats have the narrowest of majorities and have no such luxury. If the Senate takes no action, the Assembly understandably will not bother since it accomplishes nothing.
The reckoning will come later. Regardless of whether the legislature cuts spending today, Gov. Paterson in January will propose a state budget for 2010-11 that will cut back on growth in school aid and health care spending. The only question is by how much. He'll not have much of a choice. As Willie Sutton once said about why he robbed banks: that's where the money is.
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Okay. We agree.
So, can we move on from this "thoughtful" descriptor for expanding charters? It's taken New York State a decade to open only about 150 charter schools, of which fewer than a dozen were closed. This chartering and oversight process has been very "thoughtful" for a decade and continues to be "thoughtful" and has been constantly adjusted as a result of being "thoughtful."
No one is suggesting--not the most ardent charter advocate--that we be thoughtless, which means we don't need reminders that we should be "thoughtful" since we have been "thoughtful" from the beginning.
A cap lift will make us no less "thoughtful." You know, I think it will make us even more "thoughtful" going forward!
Tisch, along with former City Council Education Chair, Eva Moskowitz; UFT President Michael Mulgrew; and Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, Joe Williams were the panelists at a forum on education issues sponsored by the Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century earlier this week. New York Times education reporter, Jenny Medina, moderated the session. Maura Walz of Gotham Schools writes about the event (here).
The session began with a discussion of what should be the educational agenda for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fresh from his re-election to a third term. (NOTE: Anyone who believed the Mayor was headed for a blow-out re-election overlooked three factors: gobs of campaign money, though an advantage, brings marginally diminishing benefits; his Democratic opponent, Bill Thompson, still had an enormous enrollment advantage; and voters generally tire of two-term executives, even if considered successful -- but I digress)
Eva Moskowitz spoke first by saying the "jury is still out" and that there was a "tremendous amount to do" for the Mayor. For starters, she said schools are "not organized around teaching and learning" and neither were the teacher contracts which dictate so much of what goes on in the schools. Later on, Moskowitz described examples of how the charter schools she operates as head of the Success Charter Network hire and work with teachers.
Chancellor Tisch and Charter Schools
Merryl Tisch expressed a vision for charter schools as she discussed the Race-to-the-Top application, saying there needs to be a "thoughtful expansion" of charter schools and that the state can "significantly improve" the charter school law. For example, charter schools should be authorized to serve pre-kindergarten students, and "a new charter shouldn't have another board of trustees," nor should there be a "hard cap" on the number of charter schools. What she meant by "hard cap" was not clear; but I suspect it would be akin to allowing existing, high-performing schools to replicate without their added schools counting under the cap. There was no mention of her interest in the Regents taking over all chartering.
On the issue of charter boards of trustees, I believe the Chancellor is getting at the idea that a single board of trustees either should be allowed to govern more than one charter school, say multiple KIPP schools doing the same thing; or, alternatively, a charter school itself should be able to locate at more than one site. State Senate President Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) is proposing legislation to achieve the latter approach. Importantly, one of the intents of authorizing this approach is to encourage more charters to expand to high school grades.
Chancellor Tisch also wants to see charter schools operate more high schools, and to step up and be involved in her upcoming plan to "turnaround" chronically low-performing high schools. As The Chalkboard has noted previously, details matter. I can envision charter school operators taking over failing high schools when the systems and structures that contributed to the problem are changed to allow for a successful turnaround. We will soon see what rules (e.g., contracts, personnel, resources) Tisch and the state Education Department are willing to confront to make turnarounds real and lasting. Presumably, they will be "aggressively bold" as she described the state's Race-to-the-Top application.
Charter Schools are "Darlings" -- Really?
Finally, the Gotham story reminded me of the Chancellor's description of charters as being the "political darlings" of the city and state, that are "blessed with the most qualified teachers and some of the highest achieving students" as described by the story.
Eva Moskowitz took issue with the "darlings" descriptor by noting that charters get far less money on a per student basis and that everything charters have gotten they've had to fight for "tooth and nail." I would add that if charters have quality teachers and students (and they do), it is a credit to the charter schools; not a gift from elsewhere.
Perhaps Chancellor Tisch was being tongue-in-cheek, but it's worth describing further the irony of this characterization: charter schools got their funding whacked by the state legislature this year, so the funding gap with districts was exacerbated. While the Mayor and Chancellor have been supportive by approving charters and providing most of them space, it's a much tougher situation in the state Capitol where the teacher unions loom very large and have no love for their charter competition. We continue to beat back harmful bills and must move heaven and earth to get positive legislation enacted.
Even in 2007 when the charter cap was doubled, we had several brushes with death from the state Assembly that tried to load up the charter law with poison pills that would have made it impossible to operate, let alone educate students successfully. Things have since improved in some ways, but we are not there yet.
"Political Darlings?" Not hardly. All we want is for the political system to let charter schools do their job and do it even better by students.
for The Chalkboard
Teacher co-authors Ann Morgante, Neil Shanahan, Christine Twarozek and Nicole Killion are fed up with NYSUT's opposition to charters and aren't buying the union's rhetorical double-talk which they recently observed by NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi last month in the Buffalo News. The same day that Iannuzzi appeared before the newspaper's editorial board, he also visited his membership at the Charter School for Applied Technologies, which has nearly 90 percent of its students coming from neighboring Buffalo.
The teachers were not amused by reading Iannuzzi's negative remarks on charter schools in the Buffalo News the following day.
Charter school unionized teachers take note: the CSAT faculty is holding its union accountable for its anti-charter school positions in the state Capitol in Albany, and in the media. CSAT teachers were particularly stung when last February its leadership publicly called on NYSUT to stand down on its position to cut the charter school funding formula -- and were summarily ignored. NYSUT subsequently got the state legislature to freeze the formula, which cost CSAT alone more than $2 million.
These teachers are exposing the reality that NYSUT has not properly represented competing district and charter teachers especially since the union does more than collective negotiations -- it has lobbied state government for its district members at the expense of its much smaller charter membership.
Unionized charter school teachers should follow the lead of their colleagues at CSAT and publicly demand political support from NYSUT and its largest local, New York City's UFT, especially during the state budget deliberations. The union is supposed to work for teachers that they organized in charters, not the other way around.
As long as teachers keep this as an internal discussion and accept private assurances or obey orders from their union, they will lose out. Many charter teachers got burned last year. They shouldn't let it happen again, and CSAT's faculty is showing the way.
for The Chalkboard
Not in New York.
The AP's Libby Quaid writes that nine other states have made statutory changes for the same purpose: Louisiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Delaware, Rhode Island, Indiana, Ohio, Connecticut and California.
Not New York.
"Obama will use the trip to Wisconsin to call attention to actions states are taking" the AP writes, from its discussion with the President's domestic policy director, Melody Barnes.
It's hard to imagine the current do-nothing strategy of Governor Paterson and the Regents is going to fly with the Obama Administration. Next week's legislative session is set to deal with the Governor's deficit reduction plan. However, this session also is perfectly timed to deal with positioning the state for Race-to-the-Top funding, but the Governor has offered nothing so far.
Instead, we get this don't-worry-we're okay-I-spoke-to-Arne mantra from higher-ups. But being presumptuous is not a sound strategy, especially with so many other states taking this federal initiative so seriously.
New York policymakers--and you know who you are--take note. The President is going to Wisconsin, not New York.
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The fact is the Albany school district has been awash in cash, having been the recipient of huge increases in state aid over the years, including extra "transition aid" for charter school payments. This allowed the district to create sizable fund balances and avoid personnel layoffs even as charter schools were being added and expanded. While state aid increased by a small amount this year, the district imposed a similarly modest 2.5 percent property tax increase.
Nine charter schools have opened since the advent of charters in Albany ten years ago, and three more are scheduled to open next year. While students have flocked to charters, the district has refused to downsize; closing only the chronically failing Livingston Middle School in part because it opened a new district middle school a few years prior.
Several district schools are under-enrolled. The budgetary response should be to consolidate those schools rather than complaining about charter schools that are doing better by students on less money.
for The Chalkboard
Prof. Pallas doesn't exactly agree with my critique of the New York City Department of Education's points grid that showed district schools outperforming charters in the overall score. Prof. Pallas also overlooks the successive years of charters outperforming districts in this same report, at least going back to the 2005-06 school year, which demonstrates a multi-year trend.
Credit belongs to the City DOE for attempting to grade schools with a mix of current performance and improvement over time. Again, my concern is that the weightings between the two lead to an overall inaccurate conclusion at variance with other recent studies and the superior charter results on the state exams.
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The DOE's accountability data does not show charters "lag significantly" in improvement on state test scores compared to traditional public schools. Rather, they lag by a couple of points according to an overall DOE point system which I contend inaccurately portrays charter schools' comparative academic performance, as Friday's Daily News article (here) states when it uses the DOE's overall measure.
The DOE report had much useful information including NYC charters outperforming the City's district schools for the last four years on state exams, with improvement in each successive year. My criticism of this report is that its progress measure is skewed to the point of diminishing the impact of the overall academic performance of those many charter schools that improved scores and sustained that improvement over time.
As a result, the DOE's aggregate scoring system paints a misleading picture of charter versus district school aggregate performance in New York City.
Mr. Sullivan has more to say on the issue here.
This brings me to Mr. Sullivan's final point to the Daily News: "Either the progress reports are invalid, or charter schools are lagging." In fact, it is the former and the report's data compilation should be reconsidered to ensure a consistent, more accurate measure of charter school comparative performance. It is the natural tendency for people to just look at the overall measure and gloss over key details, even in the same presentation, which can lead to the wrong impression less than a week before an election.
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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.