Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Sign up now for our Parent Action Conference on May 11th!


You're invited! Class Size Matters will hold our annual Parent Action Conference co-sponsored with NYC Kids Pac on May 11th. Keynote speakers will focus on Mayoral control: the way forward with New York State Senator John Liu, Chair of the NYC Education Committee, and CUNY Law Professor Natalia Gomez Velez, who co-authored the New York State Education Department's report on Mayoral Control.

We'll be hosting several workshops on important issues such as Class size compliance in NYC, Dealing with ACS, How to protect the rights of your special needs child, Problems with the mandated literacy curriculum, Understanding the charter school industry, and Safeguarding your child's school records. You can sign up for the conference here, or by scanning the QR code in the flyer above.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Post mortem on a disappointing state budget

 The state budget was finalized on Saturday, more than two weeks late, and to the surprise of many, Mayor Adams was successful in getting Mayoral control renewed within the budget.  He did not get four years, as he and the Governor wanted, but he got two years, which flies in the fact of what nearly all the Legislative leaders had said about the importance of keeping school governance outside the budget.  As Sen. John Liu said,

The proper way to do this is a thoughtful deliberation and hearing more voices in the process — taking into account more opinions from education stakeholders — and that’s exactly what we had planned to do immediately after the enactment of the budget. As it turns out,, the governor was very insistent on including this issue, and the governor has a great deal of influence during the budget making process. So this decision making was clearly rushed. It’s not best practice, but this is where we are.”

Instead of giving the thoughtful consideration the issue deserves, especially after weeks of public hearings on the matter, where hundreds of parents and teachers came out to speak about why mayoral control was  inherently flawed and needs badly to be reformed, the Governor apparently insisted the issue be shoved into the budget as part of a backroom deal. 

Extending mayoral control for two more years represents not only a slap in the face to all those parents and teachers who spoke out, but also to the State Education Department, that made a real effort into holding hearings in every borough, and commissioning a 500 page report on Mayoral control, released just 11 days ago.  That report analyzed the public comment, looked at how Mayoral control in NYC differed from school governances systems elsewhere in the country, and recommended several significant changes, including reconstituting the Panel for Educational Policy so that the Mayor no longer has a majority of appointees, and establishing a Commission to come up with more fundamental reforms.

But all of that effort was for naught, as Albany reverted to its usual bad habit of wheeling and dealing, with only three people in the room making the final decision on this issue of monumental importance: Governor Hochul,  the Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and the Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Steward Cousins.

Knowledgeable sources say that while Hochul’s insistence was crucial,  Speaker Heastie was favorably inclined towards renewing mayoral control, and Majority Leader Cousins could not withstand that pressure from the other two. 

At the very first borough hearing in the Bronx, John Collazo, chief of staff for the Assembly Education Chair Michael Benedetto read aloud statement from Benedetto that the Assembly as a whole recommended mayoral control should be renewed in its present form  “at least six more years.”  As shown on the video (see about 1.11 hour in), his speech was booed. While it is unlikely that the entire Assembly held this consensus, it seems probable that on such a high profile issue, Benedetto would not have issued this statement without checking it first with Speaker Heastie. 

The only apparent change to the governance system or the composition to the Panel for Educational Policy will be that from now on, instead of the Panel for Education Policy electing its own chair, Legislature leaders and the Chancellor Lester Young of the Board of Regents will produce a list of nominees for the position, from which the mayor will select one.  This seems to be a supremely silly idea, as well as being somewhat insulting.  Rather than lessening the Mayor’s power, this will add yet another mayoral appointee to the Panel to the 15 out of 23 that he currently controls.   It is hard to understand what such a trivial change could possibly mean in terms of providing checks and balances or lead to any more accountability in policymaking or minimizing waste and fraud.

Governor Hochul said “I want parents & children & teachers to know that governance mechanism been in place for many years will not be politicized. It will not be a political football for the next few months.”

Except it was she  who politicized the issue by cramming mayoral control into the budget where it did not belong.  No parents or teachers I know of will be assured by this backroom deal, which instead was engineered presumably to satisfy StudentsFirst and the charter school lobby, which had threatened to spend millions on ads pushing for the continuation of mayoral control, in a campaign funded by Bloomberg, the Walton family, and other billionaire supporters of privatization.  Though charter schools are NOT under mayoral control, and these ads never mention charter schools, the billionaires who really exert outsize influence with the Governor and the Mayor, and in fact funded Adams mayoral campaign want to make sure that he will be able to continue providing favors to the charter school sector in the future. 

While the sensationalist ads created by the charter lobby trumpeted the corruption of the pre-Mayoral control days, since Mayoral control was instituted there have been many much larger, multi-million dollar corruption scandals at the Department of Education as I detail in my presentation to the NYC Bar Association.  And cronyism and conflicts of interest seem endemic to this administration, as evidence by a NY Post expose today, as well as here, here, and here.

In any case, it appears that once again, public school parents and teachers and community members lost out, and the charter lobby won.  There is no other reason the Governor should have to support the Mayor in this way, who himself is experiencing record low popularity according to polls – if it were not to keep her big donors happy.

This brings me to another point – one of the reasons that elected schools boards were instituted in the first place was to try to insulate them from the horse trading that goes on in ordinary politics, so that children’s education is run by people singularly focused on this issue alone, which is too important to be traded away for some other monetary or policy issue.  But the back room deal, at least when it comes to the fate of NYC students and schools, lives on in this budget.  One can only imagine the constituent outcry if the Gov. tried to eliminate elected school boards in the suburbs or the rural areas of the state and impose a system where the Mayor had unilateral power over their schools, with a chair of their school board  appointed by the State Legislature, the Chancellor, and the Mayor.   

Yet the views of NYC residents are not given the same respect or consideration as the residents of Scarsdale or Allendale, or even voters in Detroit, Newark, and Chicago, all of which have moved away from mayoral control in the past few years.

The state budget also includes complicated language around class size, which says that the Mayor and an independent auditor must certify the city’s annual education budget to ensure that it includes sufficient funding to meet the annual targets in the class size reduction law.  Now “independent auditors” are a dime a dozen, as we saw in the Enron case.  But there is another wrinkle in the law: if the required class size targets are not reached by the end of October, the City Council must add whatever additional funding is needed to meet those targets in the November budget modification. As we saw in the recent lawsuit over the cuts to school budgets, it is difficult to get a court to overrule the Mayor and the Council, even when they clearly violate state law.

How effective this will be in fencing in Mayor Adams is difficult to predict,  Adding another budgetary provision to state law is like a parent saying to a misbehaving child, “I really mean it this time.”  In any case, as Ben Max pointed out on twitter, it is “quite something that the state passed a class size law and due to the mayor's opposition to implementing it the legislature feels it necessary to add new legal mechanisms to make the city follow the law.”

The state budget also specifies that the DOE will have to add two billion dollars for classroom construction to the proposed five-year capital plan, over and above the $4.1 billion currently proposed new capacity.  That amount is sorely needed, especially, as the DOE cut more than  $2 billion to new capacity after the class size law was passed.  But whether that will mean dividing existing classrooms or common spaces to even smaller spaces, or building and leasing new schools is unclear, as well as whether the amount is enough, especially as the head of the School Construction Authority testified at recent Council hearings that it would cost an estimated $22 to $25 billion to create enough new space to comply with the law, which is six times the amount they will now be obligated to spend.

We  have long argued that the estimates of the DOE and SCA of the capital costs for compliance are inflated.  Just a few weeks ago, after all, the Chancellor and Deputy Chancellor claimed that it would cost $32 billion to $35 billion for that purpose.  But how much it will actually cost is ,  is unclear, as I discussed in my testimony to the City Council, because of a chronic lack of transparency by the SCA and DOE, who refuse to share their methodology, despite both state and city laws that require them to do so.  In the end, how much more space is needed will depend on whether the DOE agrees to implement other changes recommended in the Class Size Working Group report, including capping enrollment at lower levels in overcrowded schools when there are underutilized schools nearby, or moving some school-based PreK and 3K programs into nearby community based organizations or Early Childhood Centers, which currently have thousands of empty seats.

At the last minute, according to several sources, Hochul also tried to include in the budget amendments to the state law that attempts to ensure that all non-public schools, including ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas, provide an equivalent secular education, include  sufficient instruction in English, math, and science.  Negotiations on this issue continued until late Friday night, and was the last item holding up the finalization of the budget. Like the billionaires who fund charter schools, the ultra-Orthodox leaders have outsized political influence with both the Governor and the mayor, and as a result, their schools continue to receive millions in state subsidies while graduating many students unable to speak English or do basic math.   Luckily, in this instance she failed to get her way.

There is also a poison pill in the budget, that so far has not been reported on, to my knowledge.  The State Foundation formula that largely determines school aid has not been updated since 2007, and there has been a move  to ask the State Education Department to commission a study on how it might be revised.  Yet instead, Hochul insisted that this study be done instead by the conservative Rockefeller Institute, run by Cuomo’s former budget director Robert Megna.  The Institute’s Director of Education Policy Studies is Brian Backstrom, an ed reform consultant who used to run the Foundation for Education Reform, a charter lobbying organization, and is still serves as the board co-chair of the Henry Johnson charter school in Albany,  and also sits on the Brighter Choice Foundation board that funds charter schools. His bio below boasts that “he is one of the founders and chief architects of New York’s early charter school movement” and he advocates for various forms of school vouchers, including private school tuition tax-credits.  It is likely that whatever the Institute recommends in terms of school funding will be biased towards further privatization, rather than supporting public schools.

In other more welcome news, on Friday the Mayor agreed to restore $500 million in planned cuts to the education budget ,including many programs that had been previously funded through federal stimulus dollars during the administrations of both de Blasio and Eric Adams.  The Mayor now has agreed to increase funding for PreK and 3K programs, including PreK for students with special needs, as well as to pay for  guidance counselors, community school services, and other programs that were on the chopping block.

What the Mayor did not agree to do is to reverse  planned cuts to restorative justice programs, or to make any commitment that schools will not face cuts in their budgets, especially for those schools that may have lost enrollment since the pandemic.  This means that many schools can expect to  see their budget for staffing cut,  leading to increases rather than decreases in class size.  As I also pointed out in my Council testimony, the size of the full-time K12 teaching staff has already shrunk by over 4,000, and the city’s financial plan outlines a further reduction of 3,000 teachers over the next two years.  Whether the language in the state budget that earlier described will be effective in preventing further class size increases from happening  is unclear to me at this point.   We will just have to see how this ongoing battle over class size and trying to persuade the Mayor to comply with the law plays out now that he has gained Mayoral control for the next two years --- the rest of his first and perhaps only term in office.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Hear about how you can protect your child from having their data sold by College Board & ACT

Online Forum: No More Student Data Sales!

Test companies like College Board and ACT, Inc. are illegally profiting from the sale of student personal data when their tests are assigned to students to take in school. Learn how this were stopped in New York State, and what we can do to push other states to end this practice too.

Virtual Forum
No More Student Data Sales! 
How Test Companies Profit from Illegal Student Data Sales & How We Can Stop Them

Monday May 6 2023
8pmET - 7pmCT - 6pmMT - 5pmPT

Register online at: bit.ly/5_6_24_webinar

Sponsored by Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Illinois Families for Public Schools and Class Size Matters


Join us on Zoom on May 6th for a webinar where we'll cover:

This webinar will answer your questions, help you protect your child's data, and connect you to other student privacy advocates. Register online here.