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

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