budget bumps

De Blasio's first budget kicks in aid for after-school programs and arts education

Having secured state pre-K funds and settled the teachers contract, Mayor Bill de Blasio is now turning his attention to funding after-school programs and boosting arts education.

In his first executive budget presentation on Thursday, de Blasio announced a $73.9 billion spending plan that he said was built with an eye on schools and improving educational opportunities for the city’s highest-need students and their families.

In addition to allocating $300 million to add more than 30,000 full-day seats, as expected, de Blasio also plans to spend $145 million to fund 34,000 new seats for after-school programs for middle schoolers, a less- emphasized part of his effort to expand social services for needy students.

The allocation is less than the $190 million that de Blasio initially planned for when he lobbied to increase the city’s income tax to fund the after-school and pre-K programs. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican lawmakers rejected that proposal and instead offered to fund the programs through the state.  

The pre-K funding will come from new money set aside in the state budget for a competitive grant program. To fund after-school, the city was given permission this year to dip into $430 million of state aid that’s typically allocated for traditional K-12 programs.

“Clearly, the way that the school aid was designated, it indicated specifically that after-school was an appropriate use and so we’ve devoted that to after-school,” de Blasio at a press conference to present the budget’s highlights.

Though he didn’t receive funding through an income tax, de Blasio said on Thursday that his proposed budget, which needs a final approval from the City Council, was still in line with the progressive agenda he promised during last year’s mayoral campaign.

“All of the pieces fit the signature program that pre-K and after school does a lot for our children in terms of their future economically,” de Blasio said “It does a lot for parents right now, in terms of providing services they need that, for many parents, come out of their pocket when it comes to pre-K and after schools.”

The plan also allocates an extra $20 million for arts education programs. Under the previous administration, total arts spending hovered around $300 million, but de Blasio said that too many schools were out of compliance with state laws requiring students to receive a certain number of time in arts class.

“It’s the right thing to do, but more important, it’s the state law,” de Blasio said, echoing statements made by Chancellor Carmen Fariña last month.

The proposed budget is a nearly 6 percent increase over the $69.8 billion spending plan that de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, presented last May. At the time, Bloomberg issued a doomsday forecast for the city’s economy, warning that no mayor could afford to give teachers 8 percent retroactive raises as part of new contract negotiations.

“It’s just something the city can’t possible afford,” Bloomberg said last May.

But last week, de Blasio struck a contract deal with the United Federation of Teachers that not only awarded members with retroactive raises and backpay, but also gave them an extra 10 percent wage increase spread out over several years.

At the press conference, de Blasio crowed about the nine-year pact, which will cost the city $5.5 billion.

“The contract achieved a number of things that had been deemed nearly impossible by various pundits,” de Blasio said.

Budget officials said on Thursday that the UFT raises set a pattern for the city’s other municipal unions that is estimated to cost a total of $13.4 billion. To off set those costs, officials said they expect to save money through less expensive healthcare plans for public employees and by tapping into the city’s labor reserve fund.

De Blasio said that there will be money to reduce overcrowding and the use of classroom trailers. He also wants to spend $20 million to steer more students into science, technology, engineering and math careers. The allocation, which would increase to $50 million in future years, would subsidize tuition and other college preparation programs for junior college students.

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union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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