Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Update on education impact of state "big ugly" and city budget deals

I wanted to update you on the state deal announced yesterday and the city budget deal finalized the day before, especially as they affect our public schools.
1.  The state deal between the leaders of the Legislature and the Governor known as the “big ugly” could have been uglier. It did not include the huge giveaway to billionaires and private schools in the form of a voucher-like education tax credit, but instead would provide an additional $250 million in state funds sent directly to private and parochial schools to pay for various services. The property tax cap that is hurting education funding outside NYC will remain mostly unchanged.
In NYC, mayoral control will be extended – but only for one year, which could allow parents and advocates more time to organize to reform the system. As for testing, more questions will be released after the state exams are given, and teachers will be allowed to talk about the exams afterward, though whether this will have any effect on these highly flawed tests or Common Core standards is yet to be seen.
The deal also included a slight lifting of the charter cap – as 22 new slots out of a total of 50 for NYC, ineligible under the old cap will now be allowed, and three more to be re-allocated to the city from the rest of the state. As Speaker Heastie pointed out, the Republicans in the Senate are eager to direct charter schools to NYC, though never to their own districts.
NYC already has the vast majority of charters, and because of last year’s budget deal has the legal obligation to provide all new and expanding charters with free space at the city expense, while already suffering from the worst school overcrowding and the highest real estate costs in the state. It could have been much worse of course. The Governor and the Senate leaders originally wanted to raise the cap by 100 and remove all geographical restrictions, which could have meant 250 additional charters flooding NYC instead of 25 more. 
Ironically, during his press conference, Cuomo cited the overcrowding in NYC public schools as one of the reasons the state needed to support the parochial schools; to keep them open especially as so many NYC public schools still have trailers.
2.  Speaking of overcrowding, despite the overwhelming need, nothing was accomplished in the city budget to expand its inadequate capital plan to build more schools – a plan that provides less than half the seats necessary. Little new was added to the education budget through the Council’s negotiations; except for fifty more phys ed teachers, eighty more crossing guards, and free breakfast given to elementary school students in their classrooms. (Never mind that because of school overcrowding, many students are assigned to lunch as early as 10 AM or as late as 2 PM). Oh yes, we will also get 1300 more police. According to the Commissioner Bratton, he intends to put many of them outside schools. (!)
I wish I had better news to report, but we’re not giving up when there are at least half a million students attending overcrowded schools with huge class sizes every day, and the situation worsening– without the city providing any real plan to address this crisis.
Talk to you soon, Leonie

Friday, June 19, 2015

With videos: Press Conference on school overcrowding and the need for an expanded capital plan

Council Members Stephen Levin and Danny Dromm
Yesterday, Class Size Matters hosted a press conference on the steps of City Hall about the need to address school overcrowding by expanding the capital plan and appoint a Commission to improve school planning and the efficiency of school siting.

Speakers included NYC Council Member Danny Dromm, Chair of the Education committee, David Greenfield, chair of the Land Use Committee, and Council Members Mark Levine, Inez Barron, and Stephen Levin, along with many parent leaders.

I introduced the press conference by releasing a letter from the Public Advocate to the Mayor and the Chancellor, co-signed by 22 Council Members and many parent leaders, urging them to double the seats in the capital plan and appoint a Commission to make recommendations on how school planning and siting could be improved.   

Then I pointed out that when the Mayor ran for office he promised that he would support a more ambitious capital plan that would provide the space necessary to eliminate overcrowding and allow for smaller classes.  He also pledged to reform the Blue Book formula so that it more accurately reflected overcrowding and incorporated the need for smaller classes.  Yet the opposite has happened; the city cut $5B for schools compared to the last ten year capital plan under Bloomberg, and $2B compared to the preliminary ten year plan released just a few months ago. 

This is despite the fact that about half a million students are enrolled in extremely overcrowded schools and the problem is getting worse.  NYC is the fastest growing large city in the country, according to recent Census data, and yet the city has no realistic proposal to address the exploding student population.   The current school construction capital plan will meet less than half the need, given DOE’s own enrollment projections and utilization figures.

Moreover, the mayor has proposed the creation of 160,000 market rate housing units and 200,000 affordable units, without any plan for where the additional students will attend school.  The Blue Book working group also came up with recommendations to improve the accuracy of the school overcrowding formula in December that have yet to be released.

The result of this dysfunctional lack of planning is that hundreds of schools have lost their cluster rooms; thousands of students are assigned to lunch as early as 10 a.m., and/or have no access to the gym. Many special needs students are forced to receive their services in hallways and/or closets rather than in dedicated spaces, and class sizes in the early grades have reached a 15-year high.
Then Council Member Danny Dromm talked about damaging impact of overcrowding at the school in Queens where he once taught, with rampant overcrowding and class sizes as high as 38: “The problem in my school we had no place to put the students. …One day they opened the maintenance closet, took out the rakes and shovels and turned it into a speech classroom, without windows, so small you could barely get through the door, it was unbelievable to see that happen.  This is happening in many schools throughout the city…   With the expansion of affordable housing, the situation is only going to become worse with the influx of new students.”
Council Member Stephen Levin spoke of the need for responsible planning with huge development occurring in downtown Brooklyn, with residential high rises springing up rapidly:  “What we’re seeing in downtown Brooklyn and in a lot of neighborhoods in NYC is that our schools will continue to be overtaxed.  There has not been appropriate planning.  We are always playing catch up, we’re building well after the impact has already been felt…  We need to recognize that when we’re seeing these housing starts, we need to be pro-active, we need to put the money up front, and ensure the schools are ready when the housing comes online and not the other way around.”
CM Mark Levine pointed out how the DOE's Blue Book formula wrongly identifies many of the schools in his area of Washington Heights and West Harlem as underutilized,  “where schools bear the scars of decades of overcrowding.  They have lost their computer rooms, their music rooms, have no gyms or cafeterias, because it’s all been reclaimed for classroom space.  They have trailers comically referred to temporary structures even though they’ve been in place for a decade or more. For years the DOE has accounted for capacity by claiming these schools are not overcrowded, but only because we’ve lost all the space needed for a truly enriching education …  There is virtually no construction planned in Northern Manhattan and they are going to leave in place a status quo that is unacceptable. We are here to say, we need to correct the wrongs of the previous era and build in upper Manhattan and give our kids the space they need.”
Then CM David Greenfield spoke as the chair of the Land Use Committee: “We approve all zoning changes; when you you’re submitting a development project, there has to be coordination with the DOE and the Mayor’s office to make sure that the resources are there for schools for kids.  You can squeeze another person on a bus or in a park, but squeezing an extra child in a classroom has a lifelong impact on many of these children, and it is not fair.  We need to think about development holistically; not just about housing, or quality jobs; it’s also about infrastructure, and #1 in infrastructure has to be school seats for our children. “
CM Inez Barron spoke as a former principal and teacher:  “I spent 18 years as teacher, and 18 years as an administrator.  One year I had 34 students, which was very challenging.  The capital plan is not adequate of allocation for construction of new school buildings.  In the Mayor’s plan for expanding housing in East NY, he hasn’t included even one new school.”
Fe Florimon, chair of the CB12 Youth and Education Committee in Washington Heights and a member of the Community Education Council in District 6:   “We don’t need 38 kids in a classroom.  A budget of $25B [the city’s education budget] should be sufficient to reduce class size; this needs to be a top priority but we’re continuing the same pattern.  As much as I love you and voted for you, I beg you, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina, to pay close attention to this matter, we need small classes, it’s for our kids.” 
Eduardo Hernandez of CEC 8 in the Bronx spoke about how it has been thirty years since District 8 got a new school: “Finally we’re getting a new school, even if it's right near a highway. School construction has been neglected for many years; also co-locations which take away classrooms have exacerbated this problem.  Hopefully this mayor will take notice and finally do the right thing.”  
Mario Aguila VP of the CEC in District 14 described how the high schools were hugely overcrowded, with up to forty students in a classroom.

CSM press conference 6.18.15 Mario Aguila, VP, CEC 14 in Brooklyn from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Kristin Gorman reported that there had been a Kindergarten waiting list of 70 children at her zoned school in Queens.  The waiting list was finally brought down when the preK program was eliminated, but “this is only a band-aid.  Why is a Democratic mayor, who many of us voted for, removing funds from education? I’m concerned about my children’s future.”
Wendy Chapman, co-founder of the organization Build Schools Now, dedicated to expanding school seats in the rapidly growing neighborhood of Tribeca, discussed the fact that even when funding is allotted for a school, the DOE often seems incapable of finding a site:  “There has been a school for this neighborhood in the capital budget for over a year; we’ve identified 11 possible sites for the school but it’s still not sited.  It’s very personal for us, every building that goes up just means more pressure that’s coming.”
Zakiyah Ansari of AQE spoke about how the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was brought in part to address the need to reducing class size “Our children would learn better, our teachers will be able to teach better if only they had smaller classes.
MC Sweeney, a parent at PS 196 in Queens, decried the fact that the DOE refuses to use real population data to properly plan for schools, and the result has been growing Kindergarten waiting lists, the loss of art rooms, and special needs students receiving their services in hallways and closets.  She said that parents are going to demand the doubling of seats in the capital plan to be voted on at the PEP meeting on June 23. 

Beth Eisgrau-Heller, a new parent at PS 8 in Brooklyn, also described the huge Kindergarten waiting list at her school, and how real birth rate data should be used and the capital plan expanded to prevent the disruption and divisiveness created by waiting lists and school overcrowding.

CSM press conference 6.18.15 Beth Eisgrau-Heller from Class Size Matters on Vimeo.

Also, here is a DNAinfo news article about parents'  demands for a doubling of the seats in the capital plan .

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why the PEP should vote against the charter co-locations to be voted on tonight

Comments I sent to the PEP yesterday below in opposition to the four proposed charter school co-locations and/or expansions in public school buildings to be voted on tonight. 

Below my comments is the resolution the Community Education Council in District 15 approved against the expansion of Success Academy charter Cobble Hill in their district.  As the resolution points out, when Bill de Blasio campaigned for mayor he promised that PEP members would take the input of CECs seriously  & explain why if their votes differed from the CEC's position.
June 9, 2015 

 I am writing to oppose the proposed charter co-locations and/or expansions in public school buildings to be voted on tomorrow night for the following reasons:

  •     There is a crisis of overcrowding in our schools, with a growing school population, and co-locations make this problem worse by the need to duplicate administrative offices and cluster/specialty spaces.
  •       Any expansion restricts the ability of the existing schools in the building to reduce class size below current levels – which are uniformly higher on average than those in the city’s Contracts for Excellence plan and higher than most NYC principals say are needed for a quality education;

  •         The Education Impact Statements project utilization rates of  near or over 100 percent in future years if these  proposals are adopted, which signals overcrowding, especially as the consensus is that the DOE current formula for calculating utilization has been widely criticized for underestimating the actual level of l overcrowding, by failing to take into account the need for reasonable class sizes, sufficient cluster rooms, and dedicated space for all students with IEPs or who need intervention to receive their mandated services:
  •           A Blue Book Working group appointed by the Chancellor made recommendations to improve the formula in December that still have not been released, and if adopted, would likely reveal far higher utilization levels;

  •    Success Academy has millions in cash reserves, including raising $9.3 million in one night, and so could easily afford to rent its own space.
  •      Success Academy has been known to enroll far fewer ELLS and special needs students which then become even more concentrated in district public schools, with fewer resources and space to address their needs;

  •    The disciplinary practices are egregious and suspension rates of SA are far higher than district schools, and contribute to the school to prison pipeline.  In fact, SA charters expel young students, which is illegal in district schools until the age of 17.

Comparative enrollment and suspension rates of the Success charters and the Icahn charter school proposed for initiation and/or expansion are below.  They reveal that  every one of the three charter schools that  already exist and for which we have data from state report cards has lower percentages of students eligible for Free lunch, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities than the schools with which they would share space – about half as many or less, especially in the ELL/LEP and SWD categories.   Each of the charters also has far higher suspension rates – about twice or three times as high -- except for Icahn charter 7.

In the charter law passed in 2010, it clearly said that no charter school should be allowed to expand or replicate if it did not enroll and retain equal numbers of high needs students.  Unfortunately, this law has not been enforced by either the state or the city.

We also have questions about why the Success charter schools are being allowed to add preK sections into these buildings next fall, which clearly changes the building utilization, without going through any of the legally mandated public processes, including an EIS, a building utilization plan and/or a vote of the PEP.

I am attaching a letter sent to the Chancellor last fall, signed by advocates, civil rights attorneys, and parent leaders, asking for a moratorium on all further co-locations and expansions until it is confirmed that the constitutional rights of the students in the existing schools for a sound basic education have been substantially remedied.   This still has not yet occurred.

Yours sincerely, Leonie Haimson, Executive Director
School Name
Eligible for Free lunch
Limited English Proficiency
Students with Disabilities
Suspension Rate
P.S. 93 Albert G Oliver

JHS 50 John D Wells
Success Academy Williamsburg

School of International Studies
Brooklyn School for Global Studies
Success Academy Cobble Hill

Andries Hudde School
Success Academy 10- (New)

Data source: NYSED school report cards 2013-2014