Archives for category: Cuomo, Andrew

Cynthia Nixon, award-winning actress, is an activist for public schools. She ran against Andrew Cuomo for Governor in the Democratic primary in 2018. He had collected $35 million or so before the campaign started and outspent her 35-1. Her big issue was inevitable school
funding. (I endorsed her.)

She wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times contrasting the resources available to make her TV show set completely safe and the inadequate, spotty measures to make the schools safe for 1.1 million children.

Priorities! Kids don’t count!

Two phone calls exposed the differences in resources, planning, and care for health and safety:

On the call related to my show, I heard about the many tours the industrial hygienist had taken of the set and about the renovation of some of our work spaces to be coronavirus-safe. Out of an abundance of caution, even some spaces that looked fairly healthy had been eliminated.

I also heard about how the crew and production staff would be divided into strict pods; they would be tested before they started work and then tested one to three times a week. Actors, who need to remove their masks, would be tested every day. Anyone coming to New York from out of state would need to quarantine for two weeks before being allowed on set.

Air purifiers have been purchased, filtration systems have been upgraded, and an entire department has been created solely to deal with safety protocols and testing. And Covid-19-upgraded vans and shuttles, along with extra parking lots, were available to ensure that everyone had safe transportation to work.

The second call was a meeting of the parents association at my son’s public school. I heard that teachers and administrators could choose to be tested for the coronavirus before the school year began and that people entering the school could decide whether they wanted their temperature taken.

I heard about classroom pods limited to nine students, a restriction made irrelevant by the number of people moving freely from pod to pod — teachers, school staff members and even parents who are now being recruited as substitute teachers by overwhelmed school administrators. I heard about the several hundred school nurses who still needed to be hired in the system.

I heard that building inspections would begin just a few weeks before school was set to open, even though out of the 1,700 buildings to be examined, a thousand already have documented ventilation problems. And I could only shake my head as I later saw that the system for testing these ventilation systems involves using a yardstick with a piece of toilet paper attached to it by paper clip to gauge airflow.

Needless to say, the care and investment given to restarting television and film production in New York looks nothing like the uncertain, chaotic, shamefully underfunded and profoundly unsafe approach to reopening the public schools, which serve 1.1 million children, nearly three-quarters of them deeply underprivileged.

This pandemic has laid bare our society’s inequities, and nowhere more than in our public schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, lauded as a hero for his handling of the state’s pandemic response, has overseen a supposedly temporary 20 percent reduction of its payments to school districts since this summer.

In New York City, the decrease would amount to a $2.3 billion loss for the schools over the next year. The city schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, said that the cuts, if made permanent, would mean “game over” for in-person learning, and would lead to programming cuts and 9,000 layoffs in the Department of Education.

Yet the governor has resisted raising taxes on the state’s 118 billionaires (up from 112 last year), who have seen their collective wealth increase by $77 billion during the pandemic, a figure that dwarfs the state’s projected budget gap of $14.5 billion this year.

Even before the pandemic, New York State was second in the country when it comes to inequities in education funding — with rich districts getting $10,000 more per student on average than poor districts. (The state’s failure to equitably and fully fund New York’s low-income school districts motivated me to run for governor in 2018.)

The city has compounded the continuing disinvestment in our public schools. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council pushed through nearly $1 billion in cuts and savings to the education budget. Coupled with the state reductions, the schools are now facing a staggering cut of $3.3 billion.

The mayor has been hamstrung by the governor and his own political miscalculations and leadership failures. As experts warned of a pandemic earlier this year, the mayor, echoing Mr. Cuomo’s confidence that the virus could be contained, resisted calls to close the schools.

By early May, at least 74 Department of Education employees had died in connection with Covid-19. (Researchers at Columbia found that had the city shut down even a week earlier than March 16, the date when schools were finally closed, some 18,500 Covid-19 deaths citywide could have been avoided.)

Over the summer, as schools in Los Angeles and Chicago decided to go fully remote this fall, giving them crucial weeks to prepare for remote learning and make accommodations for the neediest students, our mayor at first stubbornly refused the pleas of parents and teachers and pushed for reopening in person without delay.

The mayor, whom I endorsed in 2013, has insisted correctly that schools are vital for the city’s most vulnerable families. His desire to reopen on time, however, has not been backed up with adequate safety measures.

It is noteworthy that a survey last month by the Education Trust-New York found that Black, Latino and low-income families — many of whom have already been disproportionately hit by the virus — were significantly more wary of reopening schools this fall. Only when threatened with a strike by teachers (who were largely demanding many basic safety measures) did the mayor finally agree to delay opening, albeit by less than two weeks. As a result, all city public school students are now without schooling, remote or in person, for most of this month.

Instead of asking our wealthiest citizens to pay more during a time of crisis, New York is imposing austerity on public schools — even though fewer dollars mean fewer safety measures, more cases and more deaths.

If city and state leaders cared half as much about our children as they do about television actors, we’d be raising revenue and giving our schools the funding needed to reopen safely. The attention being devoted to keeping the city’s movie sets safe shows that it’s possible. Don’t our students and teachers deserve the same level of care and investment?

Governor Cuomo slashed school funding across the state of New York. Other governors have found ways to protect their schools and children. Please sign the petition of the Network for Public Education Action, calling on Governor Cuomo to restore school funding. Schools cannot safely reopen with less money.

Leonie Haimson summarizes the pluses and minuses of reopening schools in New York City.

She points out:

Many public health experts and epidemiologists agree that NYC schools seem to be in the best position of any large district in the country to offer face-to-face learning, with an COVID positivity rate of only about one percent.

Our positivity rate is very low and the lowest we are likely to see until there is an effective vaccine, which could take a year or more to be developed and widely adopted. By borough, according to the state, the current positivity rates ranges from 1.3% in the Bronx, .9% in Staten Island and Brooklyn, .8% in Queens and .6% in Manhattan.

However, and this is a big however, schools should be reopened only if they can adopt rigorous safety and health protocols.

One of the biggest risks to safety right now is the poor ventilation in many NYC schools. Ventilation is a critical issue, as closed and stuffy rooms will intensify the risks of infection and virus spread. Many schools have lousy or broken ventilation systems, and/or classrooms with windows that don’t open or no windows at all, as I pointed out in this article. According to a principal survey we did ten years ago, 40% reported they had classrooms with no windows – and I doubt the situation has improved…

While many parents and teachers have been pushing for outdoor learning for safety reasons, the DOE has not provided them with any support to achieve this important goal. In fact, I have heard that some schools have said the DOE is discouraging them from providing outdoor recess or learning…

Another critical issue is the lack of testing with results fast enough to ensure that students and staff who are ill know to stay home and quarantine rather than infect others. Right now, many testing sites across the city take 5-15 days to deliver results, which is nearly useless. More and more, states are realizing that to safely reopen schools, they should adopt rapid antigen testing, which gives results within minutes and cost only $1-$2 each. Six governors from Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia have teamed up to buy large quantities of these quick testing kits, but not Governor Cuomo, for some reason.

Rather than join this consortium and help schools reopen safely, Gov. Cuomo has lambasted schools over the weekend for not having their own testing procedures in place, something they do not have the funds, the staffing or the expertise to do. Though he rightfully stepped in to help hospitals by purchasing PPE and helping to quickly expand testing sites when the COVID crisis first hit, he now acts that he has no responsibility to do the same to help and support schools in this difficult time.

Understandably, many parents are confused and ambivalent. Despite the Mayor’s spin that more than 700,000 students chose to engage in some form of in-person learning in the fall, it appears that fewer than half NYC parents registered any preference on the online survey, with 264,000 parents opting into remote learning and 131,000 blended learning. Many families seem to be waiting to see what the plan is for their schools, after which they can choose full-time remote learning at any time.

Governor Cuomo gave thumbs-up to reopening schools in New York so long as their plans are approved by the state. Some parents and teachers are happy. Some are worried. Sone wonder how schools will pay for testing and tracing.

Schools have already opened in a few other states, and their experiences bear watching.

There is still much about the virus that is unknown, and some states (California and Georgia) reopened too soon, sone states are watching upticks in the infection rate (Massachusetts, New Jeraey), some nations reopened too soon (Israel, Spain, South Korea).

A seven-year-old boy with no pre-existing conditions died of COVID-19 in Georgia.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote today:

If the national failure has an image, it is the photo of the crowded hallway of a high school in Paulding County, Ga., this week, where schools rushed to reopen with a mask-optional policy even though an outbreak was underway. As schools reopen without safeguards, the virus is already hitting students and staff in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Kansas.

It didn’t have to be this way. Cornell researchers report that other countries have found ways to reopen schools — with self-administered tests with overnight results (Germany), daily temperature checks (China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan), staggered arrival times (Japan, Israel), measures to let vulnerable staff work remotely (Britain, Israel, Denmark), and policies prioritizing elementary schools for reopening (Denmark, Norway). They’ve expanded transportation, limited class size, spaced desks, installed partitions, closed public spaces and moved classes outside.

The successful countries also had a crucial precondition: a low infection rate. A new article in the Lancet calculates that in order for British schools to reopen full-time in September, 75 percent of people with symptoms would need to be tested, positive cases isolated and 68 percent of contacts traced. Otherwise, a resulting new wave could be twice as bad as the first.

Here in the United States, testing, isolation and tracing capability lag badly, while Trump falsely claims children are “almost immune” from the virus and his education secretary claims children are “stoppers of the disease.”

How was the most powerful and advanced nation on earth brought so low? Of the various causes, one rises above all: The incompetence and selfishness of just one man.

New York, like California, has a large cohort of billionaires. To be exact, there are 118 billionaire families in New York. Despite the desperate financial condition of the state, Andrew Cuomo refuses to raise the taxes on the top one-tenth of 1%. Cuomo says that if he raised taxes on the billionaires, they would move to another state.

Walker Bragman and David Sirota explain another reason why Cuomo won’t raise taxes on the billionaires: one-third of them are donors to Cuomo’s campaigns, and clearly he has aspirations to run again for higher office.

As that campaign to tax billionaires received a recent boost from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and New York’s Democratic state legislative leaders, Cuomo has insisted that he fears that the tax initiative will prompt the super-rich to leave the state. On Wednesday, he doubled down, warning that if the state tried to balance its budget through billionaire tax hikes “you’d have no billionaires left”.

But in defending billionaires, Cuomo is protecting a group of his most important financial boosters. More than a third of New York’s billionaires have funneled cash to Cuomo’s political machine, according to a Too Much Information review of campaign finance data and the Forbes billionaire list.

So the people who can easily afford higher taxes to pay for public services should be protected from higher taxes, which for them is chump change.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, wrote an open letter about the steps required before schools can begin to reopen.

She wrote:


Last week, Governor Cuomo, the State Department of Health, and the NY State Education Department all came out with detailed guidance on what measures schools should take to reopen in the fall to ensure health and safety as well as provide instructional and emotional support to their students. If the COVID positivity rates of all regions of the state remain under 5%, as they do currently, schools will be eligible to reopen if they adopt the recommended protocols.

Yet nothing was said in these documents about how schools can afford the expensive health and safety measures, as well as the extra staffing and space necessary to keep students engaged in learning while attending school in person in shifts to ensure social distancing.

As the National Academy of Sciences pointed out, “Many of the mitigation strategies currently under consideration (such as limiting classes to small cohorts of students or implementing physical distancing between students and staff) require substantial reconfiguring of space, purchase of additional equipment, adjustments to staffing patterns, and upgrades to school buildings. The financial costs of consistently implementing a number of potential mitigation strategies is considerable.”

Our schools’ desperate need for more funding has been aggravated by the fact that Governor Cuomo hijacked the extra dollars that were funded by Congress in the CARES ACT to fill holes in state aid, instead of sending these funds to schools to help them deal with the additional expenses caused by the COVID crisis.

Now is the time for the Governor and our State Legislators to stand up for our schools and protect our children by providing them with the funds that are badly needed. They could do that easily by boosting taxes on the ultra-wealthy, including the Ultra-millionaires Tax (S.8164 / A.10364) on residents who earn above $5 million annually; or above $1 million annually (S.7378/A.10363); and the Pied-a-terre Tax (S.44 / AA.4540), a surcharge on non-primary residences worth over $5 million.

There is no doubt that the ultra-wealthy can afford this. In NY State, 118 billionaires saw their wealth increase by $77.3 billion during first three months of the pandemic. Michael Bloomberg saw his net worth increase by $12 billion during this period alone. All New Yorkers, including the ultra-wealthy, need to pitch in during this time of need, to ensure the health, safety and education of our kids. Below are links to your Legislators’ contact information and a script you can use. They are back in session today.

Thanks Leonie

Directions: Call your Legislators in their district offices – unless their phones are busy and then please call their Albany offices.

You can find your Assemblymember’s phone number here and your State Senator’s phone number here.

Script: Hi, my name is ________ and I am a constituent.

Our public schools desperately need more state aid to deal with the pandemic. I want to urge [Elected Name] to support the Fund Our Future package, including the Ultra-Millionaires Tax, the Billionaire Tax Shelter Tax and the Pied-a-terre Tax, so our kids can attend school safely next year. Can I count on [Elected Name] to sign onto these bills, and to ask the Legislative leaders to bring them to a vote?

Afterwards, if you have time, please enter their responses into our Google form here. Thanks!

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
phone: 917-435-9329
leonie@classsizematters.org
http://www.classsizematters.org
Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson
Subscribe to the Class Size Matters newsletter for regular updates at http://tinyurl.com/kj5y5co

Subscribe to the NYC Education list serv by emailing NYCeducationnews+subscribe@groups.io

Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/

Without Congressional authorization, Betsy DeVos has urged states to dispense CARES Act funding based on enrollment, to include private schools, not based on economic need. As usual, she is using her authority to promote privatization of public funds intended for public schools.

The Education Law Center wrote an appeal to Governor Cuomo, urging him to reject the DeVos formula, which will divert money from the poorest children and defy the intent of Congress.

Read the letter here.

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.

Andrew Cuomo has a longstanding dislike for teachers and public schools.

He made his disdain clear when he failed to appoint any current New York City educators to his “reimagine education” task force.

Why should he listen to teachers and principals when he can call Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Eric Schmidt and other billionaires and CEOs to decide what schools should look like when they reopen?

If there is any consolation to this malign neglect, it is important to remember that Cuomo has no role in setting education policy. That job belongs to the New York State Board of Regents. According to the state constitution, the governor does not appoint either the state commissioner or the Board of Regents.

He is a kibitzer.

The Syracuse, New York, journal has sound advice for Andrew Cuomo: Remote Learning is a stopgap. Parents and students want real teachers and real schools. Stop musing about “reimagining” education. Your musings are unsound. Listen to parents and teachers. Let the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Fepartnent do their job.

The editorial begins:

Parents, teachers and students had barely come to terms with the cancellation of the rest of the school year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped another bomb: Maybe, he mused, going to school in person is simply obsolete in the age of coronavirus.

The reaction from educators and parents was swift and fierce. Aides later walked back the governor’s ambiguous and tone-deaf inference that remote instruction could replace the face-to-face kind, saying it would be a supplement.

It can’t be a replacement. You know this if you are a parent with children learning at home for the past seven weeks, or a teacher trying to instruct those students. We see firsthand much is lost in translation from classroom to computer screen. It may be necessary to use remote learning as a bridge to returning to school full time, or when virus flareups close schools temporarily, but it cannot be permanent.

Kids need to go to school. And they need to go to school this fall, in whatever form the virus permits.

Despite good intentions, we can see that homeschooling is not going well for many students — most of all the ones lacking the technology to keep up, or having to share it among siblings. Special needs students are adrift. We also can feel how much being separated from their peers and mentors in a school community is damaging kids’ social and emotional well-being. They are increasingly sad, unmotivated and glued to one screen or another. Without support from teachers and counselors, stressed-out parents are struggling to keep it together.

The governor also knows that reopening schools and childcare settings are key to getting adults back to work. And yet schools are in the last phase of Cuomo’s four-phase plan to reopen the economy, alongside arts, entertainment and recreation. This is a major disconnect. Concerts and baseball games are not essential (as much as they make life more enjoyable). Education is essential.

We’re with Cuomo’s impulse to take the lessons from the coronavirus to “build back better.” What have we learned about schools? Inequities are magnified. Homes are not always ideal learning environments. Access to computers and high-speed internet varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, district to district and region to region. These are some of the issues New York needs to solve first, before it can lean on remote learning for anything beyond an emergency.

As for Gates and Schmidt, the editorial says, “Proceed with caution.”

When your only tol is a hammer, every problem looks,Ike a nail. When you ask two tech magnates to reinvent education, they have only one strategy: more tech. And the past two months have proved that more tech is not what’s needed.

What’s needed is smaller classes and the resources to meet the needs of children. Perhaps Gates and Schmidt could spare a few billions to solve real problems.