New York State has the highest local taxes in the nation, prompting Governor Paterson to propose a cap on how much property taxes can be increased for education funding. But how would a tax cap affect public education? Studies show that tax limitations decrease revenue for public services and are associated with lower student achievement and higher class sizes, according to a briefing paper by the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Research and Information Services. The briefing paper reviews more than a dozen studies and concludes that state funding does not replace local funding limited by tax caps; in fact, local funding is often used to make up for state funding cuts during economic downturns. Furthermore, tax caps affect poor families and their communities the most, widening inequality. Studies linked tax limitations with lower student achievement, both when comparing districts affected by tax caps to similar districts not affected and when looking at achievement before and after a tax limitation took effect. Also, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Massachusetts' Proposition 2 1/2 made local budgets more dependent on state aid, which fluctuates along with the health of the economy. Prop. 2 1/2 took effect during the "Massachusetts Miracle," a period of rising state revenues due to economic growth; CBPP warns against enacting a similar law during a slow economy, when state funding is unlikely to make up for local shortfalls.
Yesterday's Student Safety Act rally brings to light the need to explore alternatives to policing for making schools safer. Few would dispute the need for school safety agents to handle the most serious incidents of violence, but what options exist for resolving the low-level incidents that characterize many school environments and make students feel unsafe on a day-to-day basis? Could school safety agents and others in schools play a different role in resolving conflicts? Finally, how can schools prevent problems and resolve underlying issues? This post takes a look at one possibility — expect more in coming weeks. What is restorative justice? An article about restorative justice in Rethinking Schools describes what happened when a student who broke a window at Humanities Prep in Manhattan went before the school's "Fairness Committee": During that session, the members of the committee found out that the day before he broke the window, his family received notice that they were being kicked out of their shelter and had no place to go. While this did not fully excuse his actions, we were able to discuss more fully and fairly what the consequences should be, as well as discuss more constructive ways to deal with anger. We jointly decided that he needed to give back to the school community in some way. Knowing that it would be ridiculous to ask a student who was homeless to pay for the window, we all agreed he would help answer the phone after school for a month. In the meantime, his advisor and the school social worker were able to reach out to his family and offer support. If the fairness committee had been a systematic, rigid mechanism, we would not have been able to brainstorm these solutions. "Restorative justice" refers to interventions like that conference that facilitate discussion among the offending student, those harmed by his or her actions, and others with significant relationships to either the victim or offender, such as family members. The process seeks to make the offender aware of the harm he or she has caused, take responsibility for it, and try to repair that harm to the extent possible by making reparation to the victim or community.
For years, students and activists have complained that lines of authority in school discipline are muddled by the presence of New York Police Department safety agents in schools — and that the confusion can lead to abuses and conflict. As of today, the City Council is considering legislation to improve the school safety situation. This afternoon, Robert Jackson, chairman of the City Council's education committee, introduced the Student Safety Act, which would make information about school safety more transparent and accessible, with the goal of clearing up lines of accountability and fostering a positive atmosphere in the city's schools. More than 100 supporters, from community organizations such as Make the Road New York and the Urban Youth Collaborative, gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning bearing signs that read "Graduation, Not Incarceration" and "Schools not Jails."
The Gothamschools Time Machine Yesterday, I attended a hearing about mayoral control sponsored by the New York State Senate Democratic School Governance Task Force. As I listened to the handful of opponents of mayoral control who turned out to rail against the authoritarianism and cronyism they have identified under Mayor Bloomberg's leadership, I was inspired to think back to 1871, when for the first time the city's mayor gained total control of the schools, resulting in what the New York Times then called a "demoralized condition" for the system. In 1869, Boss Tweed, the leader of the infamous Tammany Hall ring, pushed through a law in the state legislature that replaced the city's popularly elected Board of Education with an interim panel staffed completely by his hand-picked mayor, A. Oakey Hall. In early 1871, a second Tweed-originated law abolished the Board of Education permanently and made control of the schools a municipal responsibility. Oakey Hall's control of the schools lasted until Tammany Hall's corruption was exposed later that year; the Board of Education was reconstituted in 1873.