Education-related budget adjustments proposed by the City Council. As the City Council hunkers down to vote on the city's budget today, it appears that schools aren't going to get a big last-minute budget boost. The council included about $25 million for the city schools in a list of budget adjustments (pdf) released last night. That's about a fifth of what the council added into last year's budget at the last minute, when it restored more than $120 million in budget cuts in addition to making sure council members' pet projects got funded. One restoration that looks like it will happen this year is for Teacher's Choice, the program that gives classroom teachers discretionary funds to use for supplies.
As the fate of New York's school governance legislation shifts to the Senate, groups advocating for language that would curb the mayor's power are left to weigh their options. Initially, many hoped that the bill passed in the Assembly would contain fixed terms for members of the Panel for Educational Policy, or would prevent the mayor from appointing the majority of the panel's members. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's bill that sailed through the Assembly on Wednesday did neither. Yet groups like the Parent Commission and the Campaign for Better Schools remain optimistic that the bill that is eventually enacted will look different. Some opponents believe that they've oddly benefited from the Senate meltdown. With the Senate Republicans saying they'll support Silver's bill, Democrats there could perceive going along with the Speaker's bill as capitulation, the opponents reason. Instead, opponents hope Democrats will seek to distance themselves from the Republican position by offering amendments to the bill.
The Department of Education failed to follow more than 200 orders to give disabled students extra services in a timely fashion, an independent audit released today concludes. The audit was the first-ever comprehensive look at how the city follows through with special education orders. Parents of children with special needs can argue that their children are not receiving enough services at independent hearings where both the parent and the Department of Education testify. Hearing officers either determine that the current services are adequate — or order the city to do more. The audit is a result of a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group Advocates for Children, which often represents parents in these hearings, in 2003. The lawsuit accused the city of not following through with hearing officers' orders, which range from demanding that children receive extra tutoring to mandating a special program for helping children with autism. An agreement that settled the suit out of court required regular audits of the Department of Education's efforts to improve responses. The audit released today, the first in a series required by the settlement, found that school officials failed to meet a pre-determined goal. If the failure is repeated in follow-up audits, it could send Advocates for Children and the city to court.
The City Council's education committee voted today to recommend closing schools on two Muslim holy days observed by as many as 10 percent of the city's schoolchildren. But the advisory vote is unlikely to change the city schools' calendar, unless Mayor Bloomberg has a change of heart about slimming down the school year. Several council members said during the vote this morning that they were conflicted about recommending that schools be closed for any length of time. But only one, Oliver Koppell of the Bronx, voted against the resolution during the main round of voting. Ten council members cast yes votes at that time, and at least three others added their yes votes as the committee continued its main hearing, on high school graduation requirements. The vote followed a hearing nine months ago on the subject, when dozens of people testified in favor of having the days off and not a single person testified against them, committee chair Robert Jackson said today. Muslim families and religious leaders have been pushing for the holidays since 2006, when students were scheduled to take state tests on the first day of Eid Ul-Adha, one of Islam's holiest days.
Image courtesy of the ##http://www.newschool.edu/milano/nycaffairs/##Center for New York City Affairs## The City Council's education committee this morning is taking up concerns that the city could be in for a rude awakening in the coming years as high school graduation requirements become more stringent. In the past, students could opt for either of two diploma types: The local diploma requires scores of at least 55 on five state Regents exams, while the more challenging Regents diploma requires those scores to be 65 or higher. Starting with this year's ninth-graders, all students will have to earn Regents diplomas. Some advocates are warning that the state's new requirement could slash the city's graduation rate, particularly for needy students. They point out that if that requirement had been in place five years ago, the city's graduation rate would stand at just 37 percent.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is pushing back against opposition to the city's proposed school construction plan, saying there is no way for the council legally to vote it down. Quinn met today with about 30 parents who lambaste the plan as too conservative and an ineffective remedy to overcrowding. The parents are urging council members to vote against the plan when it comes up for a vote, probably on Friday. But Quinn said the city's chief lawyer has advised her that the state law governing the city public schools does not contain provisions for what to do if the council votes the plan down. "We have been informed by the Corporation Counsel of the City that if we were to vote no, the [Department of Education] would effectively be left with no long-term capital budget," Quinn wrote in a letter to the parents yesterday. In that situation, school construction could grind to a standstill, she said. The law she was referring to, Section 4 of Education Law Section 2590-p, says, "Following approval by the city board of a five-year educational facilities capital plan, the chancellor shall submit such plan to the mayor and the council of the city of New York for their approval."
ALBANY, N.Y. — After roughly an hour of debate, the State Assembly overwhelmingly voted to extend mayoral control until 2015 today, tossing the bill into the lap of a fractured and fractious Senate. The bill, which was introduced by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last Sunday, renews the current system of school governance, but with minor changes. It maintains the core of mayoral control, authorizing the mayor to appoint the majority of the 13 members to the citywide school board and giving him latitude to dismiss board members at his pleasure. The bill does include some checks on the mayor's power, such as beefed up oversight of the Department of Education's data, and the requirement that all no-bid contracts over $1 million be approved by the PEP. Before the vote, Assembly members rose and offered their own opinions on the bill, many of which followed the simple formula of praising mayoral control as a system of school governance, stating they would vote for the bill, and then listing their concerns. Many described the bill as imperfect but said they were satisfied that it addressed issues of transparency and parental involvement. "Am I completely happy with it? Of course not," said Assemblyman Peter Rivera. "But I think it's a great beginning."
The high school report released today shows that the Gates Foundation's support for small schools was worthwhile, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. His statement contrasts with the foundation's own evaluation of its small schools spending, which it said last year had not produced the academic gains it had hoped. Bill Gates himself said in November that while New York City's small schools have done better than others his foundation started, the schools still do not adequately prepare students for college. Delivering introductory remarks before a panel discussion about small schools this morning, Klein said the Center for New York City Affairs report "confirms the work of the Gates Foundation," which provided much of the funding that allowed the city to open small schools. Today's report "carefully documents" that the schools have gotten better results than the large schools they replaced, Klein said — and with the same type of students, contrary to the charges by critics who say the small schools' students start off better prepared. (In the schools' early years, they enrolled students who were slightly less at-risk, but they now admit their fair share of overage students, students with disabilities, and students who are learning English, the report concludes.) Despite his generally favorable review, Klein disputed some of the report's findings, especially around graduation rates.