Learn NY, the pro-mayoral control group, is partnering with the Hispanic Federation, the Black Equity Alliance, and the Asian American Federation, the group announced today in a press release. The three groups are going to help Learn NY host forums. On the heels of news last week that the publisher of El Diario is joining the Learn NY board, this could bring a not-so-covert racial dynamic to the mayoral control debate. Another way Learn NY might make the same point: Among the group's lobbyists are former Bronx party boss Roberto Ramirez, who heads the MirRam group. Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, chairwoman of the education committee, just told me MirRam lobbyists have already begun meeting with lawmakers to pitch Learn NY's stance on the law. Learn NY's lead spokesman so far has been Geoffrey Canada, the black C.E.O. of Harlem Children's Zone. Having the city's non-white communities stand strongly for mayoral control would be a departure from the historical pattern. In the past, racial minorities have opposed mayors' efforts to take control. Remember decentralization here in the 1960s, led in part by the black and Puerto Rican communities? The pattern applies to other cities, too, according to this essay (PDF) by Columbia Teachers College professor Jeff Henig: The most important complaints have come from racial minorities, parents, and teachers. Despite the fact that it is presented in race-neutral language, mayoral control has sparked racially deﬁned responses in a number of cities. Here's the full Learn NY press release:
Testifying in front of the State Senate today, Chancellor Joel Klein mentioned that the Department of Education and the state had reached an agreement, finally, on how the city will spend $387.5 million in restricted funds. The money is part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, which promised annual funding increases to needy school districts. To get the funds, districts must develop a plan, called a Contract for Excellence, that shows that they will spend the money on certain kinds of programs and to help the neediest students. The state and the city have wrangled in the past over how much flexibility the city should have over allocating the funds. The agreement, quietly released yesterday, signals that the state has approved the city's Contract for Excellence for this year and will disburse the funds. The breakdown of spending in the DOE's final plan (shown by program type above) is similar to what the department originally proposed back in July.
Only one of these four state lawmakers had praise for Joel Klein today during his testimony on budget cuts: The woman on the bottom right, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark of Queens. How much do lawmakers in Albany dislike Joel Klein? The chancellor fielded a flurry of criticisms today after his testimony before a joint session of the legislature. And only some of the criticisms had anything to do with the subject of the day, budget cuts. The rest politely slammed Klein on the one Albany fight where he'll really need their help: mayoral control of the public schools. Klein desperately wants to preserve control as it is, but many lawmakers said they aren't happy with the law or with how he's led as chancellor. The criticism was so persistent that, at one point, Klein plead with lawmakers to keep their opinion of him out of their thoughts on mayoral control. "Whatever you think about me personally," he said, "you need the stability of that kind of leadership to transform education." Assemblyman Herman Farrell of Manhattan dedicated all of his questions for Klein to the mayoral control subject. "We've had what I call a silencing of the lambs," he said. "I don't know who speaks for the parents, who speaks on behalf of the parents." Farrell then proposed a way to bring debate back to the running of the schools: He wants to create a second position called "sub-chancellor" or "uber-chancellor" — someone to take on the regular chancellor. Assemblyman William Colton, who represents southern Brooklyn, made a similar complaint: “There seems to be a feeling among parents that they don’t have the input or the ability to be listened to," he said. Other lawmakers criticized Klein's policies.
Speakers at a press conference to support school construction. From left to right: James Ahern of the Central Labor Committee, Leonie Haimson of the Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, Robert Jackson of the City Council, and Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers. Advocates who have been calling for the city to bulk up its school construction plan say the federal stimulus package could help the city do just that. A string of City Council members, public officials, and parents urged the city to use the new federal funds to build more schools at a press conference at City Hall today. The Senate is likely to approve a stimulus package today that includes $14 billion of dollars in funding for school modernization and renovation projects, as well as tax provisions to help school districts foot the bill for new schools. Where the federal funds will break down is not yet clear. But many are worried that whatever money the city does receive, it won't be prepared to use. They say the city's proposed five-year capital plan for school construction, first released in November, undersells the city's need for additional classrooms and suggests that the city isn't ready to make the most of new federal funds. Expanding the capital plan would allow the city to take advantage of the stimulus money, Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate who is one of the chairs of the Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, said at the press conference.
Here is where you can watch today's state Senate hearing on education budget cuts, live on the Internet. Richard Mills, the state education commissioner, is now urging lawmakers to continue doling out promised Campaign for Fiscal Equity payments — even if the scheduled increases have to slow down somewhat. Governor Paterson's budget proposal calls for freezing the CFE increases, and delaying the promised hundreds of millions still left to come for several years. To watch the live Internet video, make sure you have Real Player downloaded. Chancellor Joel Klein will testify soon. Here's Mills testifying, and more about what he said is below the jump:
Learn NY, the group lobbying the legislature to renew mayoral control, today sent out a second message to parent e-mail lists. The message addresses concerns from parents who've been wondering why they should support mayoral control if they don't support the mayor's education policies. Answers Learn NY, in the e-mail (reprinted in full below the jump): These are fair discussions, but I would like to state that I am not here to champion or defend specific policy decisions that the mayor has made. But the fact that parents are holding the mayor directly accountable for the changes in our schools highlights the key issue for those advocating for the renewal of the law-- for the first time, we have a line of responsibility: the schools are accountable to the mayor, and the mayor is accountable to us. We are all, now, education voters. Just as much as our next mayor is responsible for keeping the streets safe and providing city social services, the mayor's job description now includes education and there is a clear obligation to insure that our schools improve. Learn NY's first message to parents (and parent bloggers) was introductory. The full e-mail is after the jump.
The Department of Education is launching an effort to include more parents in the process of voting representatives to perpetually short-staffed district parent councils. But there are already concerns that the effort will have limited impact. By state law, only a small subset of parent leaders can vote for the council members. But the department is on the verge of signing a contract to move voting online, opening the door for a "straw vote" that would allow all parents to register their preferences, Martine Guerrier, the DOE's head parent liaison, said yesterday at the monthly meeting of the Panel for Education Policy. The straw vote wouldn't count, but it would at least allow more parents to give feedback about council candidates. In the past, parents who wanted to give feedback could do so only in person, at poorly attended meetings, or by submitting written comments. The department plans to hold the straw poll in April. Opening the vote to more parents is an improvement, said PEP member Patrick Sullivan. But without a change in the law that governs who can vote officially, the straw vote will just be "more meaningless input for parents," he said.