Archives for category: Budget Cuts

There is a charter school in San Diego called the Gompers Preparatory Academy. Since 2018, its private management has been fighting teachers who want to form a union. When the COVID crisis struck and the state planned budget cuts, Gompers laid off more than a third of the staff. By coincidence (!), nearly all the teachers laid off were the very ones who wanted to form a union!

Does the charter management know who Samuel Gompers was? Hint: the first president of the American Federation of Labor and a pioneer of the union movement.

Gompers Preparatory Academy announced Monday it had rescinded a decision made two weeks ago to lay off more than a third of the school’s teachers because of state budget cuts.

The layoffs would have increased class sizes from 19 students to 28 at the public charter school in southeastern San Diego. Ninety percent of Gompers students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and some may be the first in their families to attend college, the school has said.

Some teachers had criticized the layoffs as an attempt to end their recently formed union…

Nearly all teachers who received layoff notices last month were union supporters, a San Diego Education Association spokesperson previously told inewsource. Gompers leaders had maintained the cuts were necessary and said decisions were based on seniority.

This is a powerful editorial written by the editorial board of the York Dispatch.

The Republican-controlled legislature has imposed a funding system that is literally forcing the school district to starve in order to survive.

It is an outrage.

This should be a cover story in every national magazine. It isn’t, because it’s all too common.

When we starve our schools, we destroy the education of the children who attend them.

The editorial says:

York City School District is trapped in a death spiral.

It’s stuck under years-long state management that limits how money can be spent. Charter schools are annually sucking more than $25 million from its budget. Miserly state lawmakers foist the responsibility for funding public education on local officials, thereby fostering a system that rewards students in rich communities and punishes those in poor ones. And York City taxpayers are fed up with paying taxes that are up to double what’s paid in richer districts with more valuable property.

It’s no wonder that, under these conditions, York City Superintendent Andrea Berry presented a slash-and-burn budget for the 2020-21 school year containing $6.2 million in cuts. And, sadly, it’s no surprise the district’s school board went even further, last week approving a budget that axed 44 positions, including 32 teachers.

And, even so, York City’s 2020-21 budget still boosted taxes. That’s how bad things really are.

Really, what choice did district officials have?

York City school officials are trapped in a budgetary spiral that’s plagued poor, largely minority communities throughout the U.S. for decades. Under-represented at the statehouse, their calls for funding reform fall flat.

Like anything stuck in a trap, eventually the grisly choice of gnawing off one’s leg is the last, best available option.

Easily available metrics, such as test scores, drive the moneyed classes from the city, exacerbating blight and crashing property values.

The poverty increases the demand for not-for-profits, which, in turn, remove more property from the tax rolls.

And, all the while, Republicans in the state Legislature tout the myth of “school choice,” a particularly insidious bit of libertarian conservative dogma — concocted in response to the integration of Southern schools — that conspires to privatize the American school system and funnel taxpayer dollars to religious institutions.

The results will be devastating for York City’s students and society at large.

Interested in the performing arts? Too bad.

Hoping to grow from an introduction in the humanities? Those options are even more limited now.

Programs such as these are, in a very real sense, the foundation of a well-rounded education, one that prepares students to take their place as active citizens in a representative republic. But, more often than not, society has decided that the liberal arts aren’t for poor kids.

Make no mistake, York City’s plight is one destroying urban districts throughout the country. Just ask Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher, who, in 2016, wrote a blistering ruling that attacked the very foundation of the system under which public schools are funded in this country.

His 90-page ruling was an indictment of the disparity between rich districts and poor ones that the U.S. funding model breeds.

“So change must come. The state has to accept that the schools are its blessing and its burden, and if it cannot be wise, it must at least be sensible,” Moukawsher wrote.

And yet, with the inherent systemic flaws well-established, school districts such as York City remain trapped and must eat itself just to survive.

Officials there had little choice this past week.

But the fact that they were left without any other options is neither moral nor just.

Thanks to Peter Greene for sharing this blistering but accurate editorial.

Jeff Bryant noticed and documented a worrisome new trend: Charter operators are taking advantage of the pandemic to open new charter schools in suburban districts with good public schools.

Public school parents have spoken out, as he shows, because they understand that new charters will drain money from their good public schools and weaken them.

Because reopening public schools in the coming school year will be fraught with unprecedented challenges, experts say, and education budgets may get cut to the bone, news of charter school startups and expansions will undoubtedly spark heated opposition from public school parents and teachers, even in well-to-do suburban communities, like Wake County, that may have been insulated from the financial costs of school choice in the past.

“[These parents and public school advocates] should expect charter schools to drain financial resources from their communities’ public schools,” Preston Green told me in a phone call.

Green, a University of Connecticut professor, is the author of numerous critical studies of charter schools, including one in which he argued that the charter industry’s operations resemble the business practices of Enron, the mammoth energy corporation that collapsed under a weight of debt and scandal.

As evidence, Green sent me an email citing a 2018 study of five non-urban, North Carolina school districts. The study determined that these non-urban districts lost about $4,000 to $6,000 for every student enrolled in a charter school.

Green said that because controversial charter schools have so far been less widespread in the suburbs compared to inner-city communities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, it’s likely that many suburban parents who previously were unfamiliar with the fiscal impacts of charter schools will increasingly express concerns about seeing new charter schools popping up in their communities.

“This fiscal impact is concerning,” Green explained, “because public schools have fixed costs, such as facilities and administration, that cannot be cut very easily.”

Jan Resseger writes here to refute Trump and Betsy DeVos’s ridiculous claim that school choice is a “civil rights issue.” As she points out, charter schools and vouchers divert funding from the public schools that most children of color attend. School choice is responsible for budget cuts to public schools.

Privatized educational alternatives like charter schools and vouchers for private school tuition not only extract public funds needed in the public school system to serve 50 million American children, but they also undermine our rights as citizens and our children’s rights. Only in the public schools, which are governed democratically according to the law, can our society protect the rights of all children.

The late political philosopher, Benjamin Barber, warns about what we all lose when we try to privatize the public good: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck. Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

What she does not mention is that the demand for school choice originated with Southern governors in response to the a Brown decision. From its origins, school choice was rooted in racism. Last year, Steve Suitts of the Southern Education Foundation wrote an important monograph about the origins of school choice. It was supposed to block civil rights, not advance them.

Every state is facing financial catastrophe because of the economic consequences of the pandemic. Jan Resseger argues that Congress must pass legislation to avert draconian cuts to education, public health, and other vital public services. The states are facing a national crisis not of their making, and a responsible Congress would promptly enact fiscal relief. Under Mitch McConnel, we do not have a responsible Congress.

Resseger begins:

There is plenty of confirmation from the experts about the 50 states’ desperate need for additional federal relief dollars for school districts to open public schools next fall. Without immediate help from Congress, state budget cuts will diminish educational opportunity especially for the school districts that serve our nation’s poorest children. We must not take for granted that public schools will be able to provide the same programs for our children as they did before what promises to be a deep recession. The pending school funding crisis—across all 50 states—has received scanty coverage in the press, which has paid more attention to whether, how, and when schools can reopen. Here are the grim fiscal realities.

On May 15, the House passed a new federal relief program—the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), but the U.S. Senate went on a Memorial Day Recess prior to even taking up the bill. Education Week‘s Evie Blad reports: “The HEROES Act would create a $90 billion ‘state fiscal stabilization fund’ for the U.S. Department of Education to support K-12 and higher education. About 65 percent of that fund—or roughly $58 billion—would go through states to local school districts. The bill would also provide $1 billion to shore up state and local government budgets that have been hard hit by declining tax revenues as businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus.”

The HEROES Act passed by the House on May 15 is far from perfect. The New York Times Editorial Board explains: “The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion relief package on May 15. That bill was imperfect but it was something. Mr. McConnell, on the other hand, has repeatedly said he’s in no hurry for the Senate to offer its own proposal. He has put talks on an indefinite pause, saying he wants to see how the economy responds to previous relief measures. The Senate may get around to putting together a plan when it reconvenes next month. Or perhaps it will be in July.”

School districts cannot plan for essential staff like teachers, counselors, nurses, social workers, and librarians when their state budget allocations are being reduced right now before the fiscal year ends on June 30—with more state budget cuts projected moving into next fiscal year. The director of state policy research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Michael Leachman explains: “As economic projections worsen, so do the likely state budget shortfalls from COVID-19’s economic fallout. We now project shortfalls of $765 billion over three years…. States must balance their budgets every year, even in recessions… The coronavirus relief bill that the House passed on May 15, the HEROES Act, includes substantial state and local fiscal relief… States will need aid of this magnitude to avoid extensive layoffs of teachers, health care workers, and first responders….”

The Economic Policy Institute’s Josh Bivens rejects Mitch McConnell’s argument that Congress should wait and see about the need for additional federal stimulus dollars: “Congress is currently debating a new relief and recovery package—the HEROES Act—that would deliver significant amounts of fiscal aid to state and local governments—more than $1 trillion over the next two years, all told. This is a very welcome proposal. The incredibly steep recession we’re currently in is guaranteed to torpedo state and local governments’ ability to collect revenue. Further, nearly all of these governments are tightly constrained—both by law as well as by genuine economic constraints—from taking on large amounts of debt to maintain spending in the face of this downward shock to their revenues… Recent justifications for denying aid to state and local governments sometimes rest on claims that this spending has been profligate in recent years. This is absolutely not so—growth in state and local spending has been historically slow for nearly two decades. Given the importance of what this spending focuses on (education, health care, public order), this decades-long disinvestment should be reversed, not accelerated due to an unforeseen economic crisis.”

Los Angeles is trying to figure out how to reopen its schools, safely but with no assurance about how they will pay for the changes.

Sixteen students to a class. One-way hallways. Students lunch at their desks. Children could get one ball to play with — alone. Masks are required. A staggered school day brings on new schedules to juggle.

These campus scenarios could play out based on new Los Angeles County school reopening guidelines released Wednesday. This planning document will affect 2 million students and their families as educators undertake a challenge forced on them by the coronavirus crisis: fundamentally redesigning the traditional school day.

The safe reopening of schools in California and throughout the nation compels the reimagining — or abandoning — of long-held traditions and goals of the American school day, where play time, socialization and hands-on support have long been essential to the learning equation in everything from science labs and team sports to recess and group work.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education guidelines offer an early top-to-bottom glimpse at the massive and costly changes that will be required to reboot campuses serving students from preschool through 12th grade, critical to reopening California. The 45-page framework was developed through the work of county staffers, outside advisors and representatives from 23 county school systems, each of which must develop its own reopening plan….

When campuses closed in mid-March, school systems scrambled to develop a new style of education on the fly — one that relied on “distance learning.” Administrators quickly handed out computers and internet hot spots. Teachers trained on Zoom and other online platforms. Parents oversaw learning at home, even as they faced economic hardship.

Despite these Herculean efforts, school leaders and teachers report uneven student engagement and impediments to learning at home, underscoring the importance of an academically robust return to campus — even as the governor’s proposed budget envisions a cut for schools of about 10%.

Nancy Bailey reminds us that a decade ago, we were allegedly “Waiting for Superman” to save us, but that was a hoax because the film was propaganda for charter schools and privatization.

Today, as our nation fights a deadly pandemic, we know that the genuine superheroes, the ones who protect our children, are teachers.

Every state faces a budget shortfall because of the pandemic and its effect on the economy.

Projected job losses for teachers are huge.

Bailey advises: Don’t fire our superheroes.

Our children need smaller classes.

Hire more teachers.

How to pay for it?

Raise taxes on those with the greatest income and wealth.

Perhaps you know New York Governor Andrew Cuomo only through his daily coronavirus briefings, where he has been thoughtful, strong, and compassionate.

But there is another side to Cuomo. He doesn’t like public education or teachers. And as Ross Barkan writes in the Nation, he definitely doesn’t like public higher education.

Cuomo has governed New York state since 2011. State aid to CUNY, adjusted for inflation, has declined by nearly 5 percent during his tenure, though the state’s gross domestic product has increased.
At the same time, CUNY tuition has steadily risen. A New York State resident who is a full-time student at a four-year CUNY school now pays $6,930 a year, up from $5,130 in 2011. New York’s Tuition Assistance Program, which provides aid to students below a certain income threshold, no longer covers the full cost of tuition, and Cuomo forces individual colleges to make up the difference. Another tuition increase of $200 per year, along with a $120 “health and wellness” fee, is set to be voted on by the CUNY Board of Trustees in June.

While the cost to attend a CUNY college is still lower than that of many other large public institutions around the country, CUNY’s 271,000-large student body is overwhelmingly low-income: Forty-two percent of all first-time freshmen come from households with incomes of $20,000 or less, and more than 70 percent of students enrolled at senior and community colleges identify as nonwhite.

“It’s a hugely important system because of the nature of the students it serves,” said Thomas Brock, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. “And it has a really important role in higher education more generally. Historically, it’s done a very good job helping low-income students move into the middle class.”

At the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the vast majority of adjuncts say that they found out earlier this month that they were not rehired for the fall semester, meaning classes could be dramatically larger come September. Brooklyn College and the College of Staten Island are grappling with proposed overall department cuts as high as 30 percent, which would also most likely lead to layoffs.

Meanwhile, the PSC anticipates that actual student enrollment for this fall could increase, as it did during the last economic downturn in the 2000s. Simultaneously, course offerings could shrink, meaning students could struggle to complete their majors on time. Full-time faculty and adjuncts would strain to give any kind of individualized attention to students, especially if CUNY continues remote instruction but with far larger classes.

For adjuncts, many of whom are hired only semester to semester, the layoffs are traumatic. Though each adjunct earns only several thousand dollars per course, they are able to access comprehensive health insurance through PSC. “The biggest problem is stress,” said Elizabeth Hovey, an adjunct professor and union leader at John Jay. “People in this era shouldn’t be threatened with the loss of their health insurance….”

Until the mid-1970s, CUNY was largely tuition-free. Then, in 1975, New York City nearly went bankrupt. White flight, the decline of manufacturing, and poor fiscal management had driven the city into a fiscal crisis that would haunt it for decades to come, even after the economy recovered.

For CUNY, it was a tragic turning point. For the first time, tuition was imposed for all students and the budget was drastically cut, resulting in mass layoffs, reduced course offerings, and a noted decline in building maintenance. Advocates at the time correctly predicted that once CUNY introduced tuition, administrators would never make the schools free again.

Now, the specter of another fiscal crisis looms, this time because of Covid-19. New York City no longer faces the structural challenges it did during the 1970s—the city’s economy was humming along until March—but the evaporation of tax revenue is a disturbing echo of that era. What’s uncertain, still, is how hard the latest budget axe will fall.

Thanks to new powers granted by the state legislature when New York state’s budget was passed in April, Cuomo has the power to impose rolling cuts on local services throughout the year. The governor has said that without a fresh infusion of federal funding, aid to localities could be slashed by more than $10 billion, a number that has no precedent in modern times.

K-12 public schools across the state, the State University of New York system, and CUNY could be hit the hardest. In the coming days, Cuomo is expected to detail the severity of this first round of cuts. In addition, a CUNY representative told The Nation that New York City’s government, which partially funds the system, is seeking a $31.6 million reduction target for the next fiscal year, starting in July.

The architect of New York State’s draconian cuts is Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Mujica, now one of the most powerful people in the state. Mujica is a former Republican staffer who shares Cuomo’s willingness to shrink budgets.

Only the State Legislature can stop Cuomo’s cuts to K-12 education and public higher education.

Writing in the New Republic, New York City public school teacher Annie Abrams warns about the vultures circling public schools during the pandemic, hoping to make remote learning a feature, not a temporary emergency measure.

She cites the recent comments by Governor Cuomo about the seeming obsolescence of “all these buildings, all these physical classrooms; why, with all the technology you have?” And, of course, his invitation to Bill Gates of all people to “reimagine education” in the state. She might have also cited any number of statements by anti-public school individuals like Betsy DeVos and Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, which supports every kind of school except public schools.

Abrams knows that distance learning cannot replace the person-to-person contact that happens in physical classrooms.

Meaningful education is built on connection, and fostering relationships requires proximity. This is what a classroom does. It’s a space for students to establish relationships while experimenting with being in public. And while we don’t yet know the details of Cuomo’s plan, there’s reason to be suspicious. The Gates Foundation’s top-down approach to education reform, along with Cuomo’s history of supporting charter schools, inconsistency around unions, and exclusion of New York City educators from the project’s council, suggest a deeply undemocratic push to defund and privatize the public school system.

American public schools—“all these buildings, all these physical classrooms”—are cultural spaces as much as they are physical locations. Cuomo’s reimagining threatens to flatten public education into informational transaction, turning teachers into tech support in the process…

It’s clear students, at least, understand much of what our political leaders can’t grasp about public education. My students miss the dynamism and zaniness that define a classroom of adolescents, and they miss momentary escape from their defining roles at home. They know what school is, both what they’re there to do and what I’m there to do with them. When I write college recommendations, I ask students to submit a questionnaire reflecting on our time together. Last year, one said, “Writing became something you encouraged us to do when we felt most confused or frustrated, times when I was most likely to give up on doing something. I began to see writing as a way to convince people about the things that meant a lot to me.” Reading students’ faces, peering over their shoulders, and responding to their frustrations and their breakthroughs is integral to helping them match tools to occasions. This sounds saccharine, but it’s real. Those relationships are harder to cultivate on a screen.

The privatizers are choosing a moment of economic catastrophe to pitch their siren call to make distance learning permanent. It is cheaper, but it is not better. As we have seen from the dismal results of virtual charter schools, online “learning” is horrible.

Abrams argues that remote learning can never replace the learning that occurs in physical classrooms:

The American public school classroom should be an empowering space. A weird, messy, vital place of experimentation and collaboration. Public schools facilitate that opportunity for students, to think both critically and imaginatively and to agree on some kind of common reality. In the best cases, public education helps students situate themselves among broader communities than they may otherwise encounter while building civic trust. It helps them become adults, slowly, clumsily, day by day. There’s no app-based replacement for that.

She knows it. I know it. But do the politicians know it? Their current plans involve slashing the budgets of public schools at a time when the schools need to cut class sizes to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

Think about the massive tax cuts of December 2017 that lowered the taxes of wealthy individuals and big corporations. Think about the corporate handouts tucked into the Coronavirus Relief program. Then ponder why our political leaders are about to cut billions of dollars from our schools and our children.

Ricard Carranza, NYC Schools Chancellor, says he can’t cut the schools’ $34 billion budget. He says has has cut the budget “to the bone.”

Advocates don’t agree.

There is no fat to cut, there is no meat to cut — we are at the bone,” Carranza testified Tuesday at a City Council budget hearing.

Education advocates and DOE staffers say his claim belies the bureaucratic bloat and bonanza of pay raises and promotions that have exploded during the tenures of Mayor de Blasio and Carranza.

“It’s just inconceivable there’s not waste in that budget,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters. “Clearly there are more savings that can be made by cutting unnecessary contracts, consultants, and the mid-level bureaucracy, which has more than doubled in spending since de Blasio took office in 2014….”

The city has proposed $827 million in DOE cuts, including slashing school budgets by $285 million. This would reduce arts programs, counselors and social workers in needy districts, and college-prep for high schoolers. The DOE would also put off new classes for 3-year-olds, installation of air conditioners, and rat extermination.

“Students are going to feel bigger class sizes … the reduction in services, the reduction in enrichment activities,” Carranza warned.

Instead of slashing programs that impact students, critics say, the DOE should chop away at the vast array of high-salaried supervisors, consultants and contractors who do not work in schools or directly serve kids.

The DOE employs 1,189 educrats making $125,000 to $262,000 a year. All have desk jobs at Tweed Courthouse or in borough offices, records obtained by The Post show. Of those, 50 execs take home $200,000-plus — more than double the 21 at that salary level in fiscal year 2018.

That does not count Carranza, who collects $363,000.

Despite the army of six-figure supervisors, the DOE still pays high-priced consultants.

The DOE just inked a two-month, $1.2 million contract with Accenture LLP to advise the chancellor on school-reopening options, including a mix of classroom and remote learning.

Accenture staffers bill up to $425 an hour. That’s on top of another three-year Accenture contract costing the DOE $1.7 million a year for management advice.