Archives for category: New York

Well, we know that Governor Cuomo wants tuition tax credits for wealthy individuals and corporations that subsidize tuition for private and religious schools.

But we did not know–until this article at Bloomberg.com–that private schools were building luxurious faculties with public bonds.

“The New York schools are borrowing through Build NYC Resource Corp., a city agency that allows non-profits to raise money in the municipal-bond market. The schools repay investors, who are willing to accept lower interest rates because the income isn’t taxed. Build NYC receives fees for arranging the sales. It isn’t on the hook if they default….

“With interest rates poised to rise, the Ivy League stepping stones are selling tax-exempt debt at the fastest pace in over a decade to keep their edge. Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn and La Scuola d’Italia Guglielmo Marconi near Central Park plan to sell almost $150 million of bonds to pay for projects, including a new six-lane pool and musical ensemble rooms.”

The tuition at these elite prep schools averages $46,000 a year, close to the annual income of the average Néw Yorker.

“The schools are popular with Wall Street bankers and hedge-fund managers. At the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, the board includes Laura Jacobs Blankfein, an alumna and wife of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s chief executive officer, and Margaret Munzer Loeb, who’s married to billionaire hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb. Bank of America Corp. Chief Operating Officer Thomas Montag is a Riverdale trustee.”

MaryEllen Elia, who was fired as Superintendent of Hillsborough County a few months ago, was unanimously endorsed by the Néw York State Board of Regents yesterday.

 

Valerie Strauss wrote about her selection here. She has the support of the Republican establishment in Florida (she was a member of far-right Governor Rick Scott’s transition team), as well as the support of teachers’ unions in Florida and Néw York.

 

Parent activists are wary of Elia because of her past support for high-stakes testing. To win their confidence, she must clarify her views about testing, about the Opt Out movement, about detaching test scores from teacher evaluations, about merit pay, and about Common Core.

 

In this interview, she reiterates her support for high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and using test scores to evaluate teachers. When asked her reaction to parent resistance to testing, she emphasizesd the need for better communications with parents. I don’t think that “better communications” will pacify parents who are fed up with the overuse of testing. At some point, hopefully soon, Commissioner Elia must recognize that parents know what they are doing, and they disagree with the Regents’ policy of plunging into the Common Core, high-stakes testing, and test-based accountability.

 

Commissioner Elia must understand that the problem is not a failure to communicate, but a genuine difference of opinion about how to educate children. The leaders of the Opt Out movement are not misinformed; they are very well informed indeed. Will she punish children who refuse the tests next year? Will she collaborate with parent leaders? Will she listen to parents and hear them? Will she use her influence to persuade the Regents and the Governor to reduce the importance of standardized tests? If she doubles down on Governor Cuomo’s testing agenda, she will energize the Opt Out movement. Parent leaders are disappointed by the lack of transparency in the selection process as well as the implicit message that the Regents did not listen to them. They will continue to speak out in the only way they can be heard, by refusing to submit their children to the tests.

The latest poll from the respected Siena Reaearch Institute finds that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approval rating has dropped to 41%, his lowest rating on this poll since he became Governor. (Another poll said his approval rating had fallen to 37%.)

Voters are upset by corruption in state government/ both the leader of the Assembly and the leader of the State Senate were recently indicted.

“Still, corruption is not the only thing New Yorkers are worried about. The poll found that voters rated the economy and education as the top two most important issues they want to see improvement on, while corruption ranked third.

“Voters have been expressing disapproval of Cuomo since he began his second term in January. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in March suggested that growing discontent with the governor’s new education policy could be at the root of the disapproval.”

Voters are divided over Cuomo’s Education Tax Credit proposal, but more oppose it than support it.

The Buffalo News reports that MaryEllen Elia will be selected by the New York Board of Regents as the next state commissioner of education, replacing the controversial John King. The news was repeated by a Tampa television station.

 

The vote will occur sometime today, according to reports. When the news leaked, parents began bombarding the Regents with emails and tweets. As one said, “It is not over until the fat lady sings.” So, listen.

 

Elia was fired by the Hillsborough Board of Education last February in a 4-3 vote. The business community was upset. But critics complained about micromanagement, a top-down style, lack of transparency, and complaints from parents of students with special needs. One board member who voted to dismiss her “accused Elia of creating a workplace culture of fear and bullying, and failing to pay enough attention to minorities, including Hispanics.” Others, including parents, said that her disciplinary policies had a disparate impact on African American students.

 

Hillsborough County received about $100 million from the Gates Foundation to design and implement a value-added measurement system for evaluating its teachers. Its plan apparently included a promise to fire the 5% lowest performing teachers every year. Florida has a harsh style of accountability, launched by Jeb Bush and carried forward by Governor Rick Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature and state board of education.

 

Her official biography on the district’s website says that the Florida State Board of Education named her the Dr. Carlo Rodriguez Champion of School Choice in 2008. She is a strong supporter of the Common Core (see the video on this website, where Elia is interviewed about Common Core).

 

So, New York, once a bastion of liberalism, is getting a state commissioner who supports value-added testing and school choice, like John King. This aligns with Governor Cuomo’s agenda of “breaking up the public school monopoly” and using test scores to evaluate teachers.

The biggest news in the state in the past year was the historic success of the Opt Out movement. Last year, 60,000 students refused the state tests. This year, nearly 200,000 did. If MaryEllen Elia is state commissioner, will she raise the stakes on testing? If so, don’t be surprised if 400,000 students refuse the tests next year.

A letter to the editor:

“Private School Tax Credits

New York Times Letter To the Editor: by DONNA LIEBERMAN, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union MAY 22, 2015

Re “Cuomo Promotes Tax Credits for Families of Students at Private Schools”

The right to a meaningful public education is at the core of our democracy, and educational opportunity must be available to all children on a fair and equitable basis, no matter how poor they are, no matter what their educational needs are, and no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, the proposal by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York to divert money from public schools to private and religious schools is not about improving public education for all children. It is not about choice. It is about allowing hedge funds and millionaires to siphon money away from public schools to support their narrow idea of what education should look like.

This includes private schools for the 1 percent, religious schools that can throw children out and dismiss teachers for having the wrong faith — or no faith — and privately owned and operated charter schools that operate without accountability and would turn our underfunded public schools into a dumping ground for New York’s neediest and most challenging students.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/22/opinion/private-school-tax-credits.html?mabReward=CTM&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=0″

The East Ramapo school district is in terrible trouble. The majority of voters are Orthodox Jews, whose children attend religious schools. The public schools are predominantly African-American and Hispanic. The elected school board is dominated by members of the local Orthodox Jewish majority. They have cut spending for the public schools and are accused of diverting money to private yeshivas. which their children attend.

Currently, a bill is in the Legislature to establish a state monitor to protect the rights of the students in the public schools. There is intensive political pressure to kill the bill.

“A bill that would establish a state monitor for the East Ramapo School District, where a school board dominated by Orthodox Jews has drawn criticism for diverting money from public schools to children in local yeshivas, faces an uncertain future after running into resistance in the New York Legislature…..

“Roughly 9,000 students, the vast majority of them black or Latino, attend public schools in the district, while about 24,000 students who live there attend yeshivas. Because they vote in large numbers, Orthodox Jews have held a majority of board seats in East Ramapo since 2005. Since 2005, the board has made severe cuts to public schools, eliminating 445 positions; reducing full-day kindergarten to a half-day; and dropping half the district’s athletic programs and extracurricular activities, the state investigation found.

During the same period, spending on the transportation of students to private schools has increased sharply, and the district has in some cases paid for special education students to attend private schools when similar services were available in public schools. Parents of public school students have grown distrustful of the board, whose meetings have at times devolved into shouting matches between members and the public.”

The Board of Regents should step in to protect the students.

I am generally opposed to state takeovers, as in Newark, where the state has been in control for 20 years. State control is not a way to improve schools. But when the local board is not acting in the best interest of children, as in East Ramapo, action is necessary.

As I wrote in an earlier post, Governor Andrew Cuomo is very proud of the 2% tax cap that he placed (through legislation) on all school districts. They cannot pass a budget with an increase greater than 2% unless a supermajority of 60% of voters approve. This is undemocratic on its face, since 55% or 50.1% wins the election in a democratic society. But Cuomo wanted to show that he was a fiscal conservative. At the election a few days ago, 99% of the state’s school districts approved increases in their school budget, and the average increase was 1.9%, obviously to avoid the governor’s cap. Eighteen districts asked voters to approve an increase greater than 2%, and 12 districts did. New York spends a lot on public schools, but its funding is highly inequitable. The legislators from the most affluent districts take care of their own.

 

Want to know the real effects of Cuomo’s budget cap? Here is a comment by a reader who calls himself “Memphis Louie”:

 

 

Cuomo’s tax cap locked in a wide existing disparity in funding–and insures that the funding gaps will widen every year–and he calls this one of his great successes as governor. At the present time NY State’s wealthiest school districts spend $8,500 more per pupil than the 100 poorest school districts. Looking forward a 1% increase in the local tax levy in wealthy districts will raise over $400 per pupil while a similar increase in the levy in the poorest districts will generate an additional $51 per pupil. Project that out over a decade and our existing spending gaps widen into chasms. The result is that the students most likely to experience success are offered lavish programs while the students who come from the most challenging circumstances get barebones programs. Then our governor calls out the failing schools–the ones with the most challenging demographics….lots of noise–but never a solution from Cuomo! NY State’s funding formulas are highly politicized and contrived to drive state funds into the districts of key political leaders–essentially, school funding is distributed like pigs at the trough. The big pigs eat until they are full and the rest get the scraps! Cuomo touts this a one of his greatest successes and the TEAPublicans want to make it permanent (because even in our heavily gerrymandered state they feel threatened that enough people will go to the polls in 2016 that they will lose their majority!

Governor Andrew Cuomo has consistently complained that public schools cost too much. So one of his first actions when he was elected was to persuade the legislature to pass a 2% cap on budget increases. That would save the taxpayers money but it handicapped the schools that saw inflation in their costs. To make matters worse, Cuomo inserted into the law a provision that it would take a 60% majority to raise school taxes more than 2%. A simple majority–the democratic way of deciding elections–was not enough. He insisted that any tax increase to benefit the schools (anything beyond 2%) required a super-majority.

In the recent election, 99% of districts passed their school budgets, with the typical increase being 1.9%, thus avoiding Cuomo’s cap. Eighteen districts sought an increase larger than 2%. The increase was approved in 12 of the 18 districts.

So, here is where Andrew Cuomo will meet his Waterloo. The public cares about their public schools. The schools belong to them. They teach the children of the community. The parents and local merchants know the teachers and the staff and the principal. Unlike Andrew Cuomo, they don’t see the local public schools as their enemy.

Elizabeth Harris and Ford Fessenden wrote an article that just went online in The Néw York Times about the stunning growth of the Opt Out movement in Néw York state. Its numbers have increased dramatically in only two years.

The movement is now a potent political force:

“As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement already has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions.

“Those same legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests. The high numbers will also push state and federal officials to make an uncomfortable decision: whether to use their power to financially punish districts with low participation rates.”

The federal government requires a 95% participation rate on tests. Two years ago, almost every district complied. Not this year.

“Only 30 of the 440 districts where data was available met the 95-percent test participation rate called for by federal requirements, a far cry from just two years ago, when almost every district complied.”

Critics of opt out say that without the test scores, no one would know which students, teachers, and schools are “failing.” But if the tests are invalid and unreliable, as many believe the Common Core tests are, then the information they provide is worthless. Are superintendents, principals, and teachers so untrustworthy that no one knows what is happening in the schools? Are the test makers better judges than professional educators?

Where will the Opt Out Movement go from here? It terrifies the Establishment. It is a grassroots movement that can’t be bought out.

Now that parents have found their voice and a means of expressing their displeasure, there is nowhere to go but up. The organizing will continue, especially as the state raises the stakes on the trsts. Next year expect even bigger numbers.

Amazing news!

Long Island Opt Out, led by parent Jeanette Deutermann, endorsed candidates in yesterday’s school board elections across the two counties that comprise the Island. Fifty-seven of the 75 candidates endorsed by LIOO won their races. This includes seven of Deutermann’s liaisons for Opt Out.

Their message was: “We are taking back our schools.”

Long Island is the national hotbed for opt outs. It is a model for the nation. Parents are organized and active; they have the support of many principals and superintendents.

Jeanette Deutermann has spearheaded this effective resistance to high-stakes testing. She belongs on this blog’s honor roll as a champion of public education.

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