Jerry Brown and CA Legislature Demonstrate Support for Public Education in State Budget

Summer weather is being intensified by the heat of the state budget season—a time when, in too many places, the cost of tax cutting and privatization of the public schools is being represented clearly in dollars and cents.  And today’s attack on the common good is bipartisan.

A new report shows that New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the NY legislature have been the target of $13 million in lobbying in the past year to push the expansion of charters and a tuition tax credit voucher program—both hot topics in NY’s budget debate—with Cuomo leading the charge for privatization and vouchers.

Another report explores the impact of pro-charter school lobbying on the Democratic governor of Connecticut, Dan Malloy—money from people like Jonathan Sackler, who made his fortune producing Oxycontin at Purdue Pharma, and who is the founder of ConCAN (which is part of a nationwide, Sackler supported, coalition of far-right privatizers, 50-CAN). In an opinion piece in the Stamford Advocate, Wendy Lecker explains: “Governor Malloy’s tenure has been characterized by denigrating teachers, vigorously opposing adequate funding of public schools and vastly increasing financial support for privately run charter schools…. Why would Malloy favor these questionable privately run schools over underfunded public schools?… The web of charter money is so thick it must have blinded Malloy to the needs and wishes of constituents from Stamford and Bridgeport.”

And  in the middle of the country, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a Republican and radical income-tax slasher, was forced to raise sales and cigarette taxes to keep the state from going broke—the predictable result of his deep income tax cuts enacted last year.  No matter that regressive sales and cigarette taxes eat up a larger percentage of the income of poor people, Brownback had bragged about his adherence to far-right orthodoxy, in his belief that the income tax cuts that have left his state on the verge of bankruptcy will eventually grow the economy.  John Hanna explains in an Associated Press report: “Kansas found itself in such a deep budget hole because the tax cuts implemented in 2013 initially led to a steep fall in revenue that has still not reversed as much as Brownback had hoped.  For the fiscal year beginning next month, the state estimated in mid-April that it would face a shortfall of 12 percent of its general fund budget.”  Hanna explains further: “Brownback and his GOP allies managed to avoid backtracking on past reductions on income tax rates… Instead, they raised the state’s sales tax to one of the highest rates in the nation and smokers will be paying 50 cents more for each pack of cigarettes.  Republican legislators cobbled together a mix of tax policies to both balance the budget and attract just enough votes for passage, but it’s not yet clear whether they’ve created long-term fiscal stability.”  A number of school districts in the state had been forced to cut weeks off the school year this spring when the state suddenly was unable to provide funding that had been previously allocated and promised.

In this context, what just happened in California looks pretty encouraging.  Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and the California legislature just agreed on a budget that increases spending for education at all levels. California’s state fiscal capacity continues to benefit from the four-year Proposition 30, passed in November of 2012 specifically to pay for education.  Proposition 30 increased income tax rates for joint filers earning over $500,000 per year and single filers earning $250,000 per year, and it increased sales taxes for four years by a quarter of a cent.

At least until the four-year Proposition 30 ends, California has the capacity to increase education funding, and the new  budget agreement does just that. As reported by John Fensterwald for EdSource, the new agreement between Governor Brown and the legislature adds $6.1 billion (on top of last year’s 13.2 percent increase) for general funding for public education through the Local Control Funding Formula: “That’s an average of $1,088 more per student for an average district, in which 63 percent of English learners and low-income children receive extra money under the formula.”  The agreement also allocates $500 million this year for staff development for teachers.  It adds over $1 billion over three years for career and technical education.  It provides $60 million in new funding for interventions to support toddlers who have special needs. It adds $10 million to increase counseling and tutoring for children in foster care. It provides $7.9 billion this year for community colleges, a $700 million increase from last year.  Finally it provides $4 billion for debt repayment: “This includes $3 billion for unpaid state mandates and $1 billion in the final repayment for deferrals—late payments that required schools to borrow money.”

Having frozen local property-taxing capacity in 1978 with Proposition 13 and, over time, reduced the state’s investment in education, California has desperately needed to increase its budget for education.  In 2012 just before Governor Jerry Brown pushed through Proposition 30, according to the Education Law Center, California was spending only $8, 218 per pupil (when the average expenditure per pupil across the states was $11,110 ) and ranking 41st among the 50 states.  In a commentary back in November of 2012 immediately after passage of Proposition 30, Molly Hunter of the Education Law Center commented on what had been the deplorable level of tax effort in California: “Not surprisingly, California received an ‘F’ on fiscal effort.  This measures the percentage of the state’s fiscal capacity that is spent on education.  California, despite its enormous economy and relatively high fiscal capacity, devotes a small proportion of its wealth and economic vibrancy to public education.”

California continues to face serious problems in education funding.  John Fensterwald comments: “The fat budget years for education are expected to level off with the expiration of temporary taxes under Proposition 30.  Surging revenues have enabled the state to pay back most of the more than $10 billion… owed to districts in past years…. But districts are still owed $700 million, and that amount is expected to grow post Prop. 30.”

While for years to come California will grapple with a legacy of disastrous cuts to state and local funding of schools, at least this year Jerry Brown deserves credit for leadership in talking about the need to fund public services that serve California’s children from pre-school through the K-12 years and into community colleges. His declared support for public education, with dollars allocated to prove it, is refreshing.

Plaid Skirt Welfare Redux

Plaid Skirt Welfare. The headline on the Cleveland Scene back on November 29, 2001 memorably identifies the essential nugget of truth about vouchers. At that time, then Ohio Governor George Voinovich was going around the state promoting a Cleveland “scholarship” program with his brother Mike, who worked as the governmental affairs director for the Cleveland Catholic Diocese.  Vouchers were conceptualized as a way to save struggling diocesan schools.

The following summer, on June 27, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court made vouchers for parochial schools constitutional. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the Supreme Court declared that the Cleveland program could constitutionally award state funded vouchers to students in parochial schools—without violating the Constitutional First Amendment prohibition of the establishment of religion—because, said the Supreme Court, the vouchers were awarded to the parents who would make the school choice, not directly to the school.

Vouchers continue to operate in Cleveland and in a number of other states, though, as a form of school choice, voucher programs have not grown as quickly as the more lucrative charters—as the huge Charter Management Organizations and on-line for-profits have demonstrated. And while the number of charters has grown, their presence has made parochial schools increasingly vulnerable because charter schools do not charge tuition.  In Ohio and elsewhere the voucher program has turned out pretty much the way the Cleveland Scene‘s headline explained—a way to help parochial schools survive in a competitive school choice marketplace.

The biggest problem with vouchers for the public in the states that now have vouchers is the school funding arithmetic.  Funding for vouchers comes out of the money in the state’s budget for education, and that amount has, to my knowledge, not anywhere been expanded to cover the vouchers while keeping public education funding at an adequate level.  In Ohio at the time of the Cleveland Scene‘s coverage of the proposed vouchers, Bill Phillis who led the coalition of more than 500 public school districts that had filed a lawsuit against the state for inadequate and inequitably distributed school funding commented: “If the state wants to expand its role into private education, that’s OK, but it’s kind of an irony that Ohio is considered among the first in private school funding in the nation, and we’re considered among the worst in public school facilities.”

Fast forward to May of 2015 when, earlier this week, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo was traveling around his state with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and promoting school vouchers in a bill Cuomo plans to introduce into New York’s legislature—the Parental Choice in Education Act.  Geoff Decker explains for Chalkbeat New York: “Cuomo spent Tuesday with Cardinal Timothy Dolan advocating for tax credits that would finance full or partial tuition to nonpublic schools for students from less-affluent families.  The proposal, a version of which was cut out of an education deal decided along with the state budget in April, is the latest effort by Cuomo to promote schools that aren’t within the traditional school system and has a better chance than ever of making it into law.”  Decker continues: “In New York City, 242,000 students attend nonpublic schools, 19 percent of the student population, according to the Independent Budget Office.  But enrollment in Catholic schools has been trending downward for years.”

Vouchers?  Tuition tax credits?  They are the very same thing.

Decker explains how Cuomo’s proposal would work: “The bill… would establish tax credits that would finance four statewide education programs.  Individuals or corporations who donate to the program would be able to subtract up to 75 percent of their contribution from what they owe the state in taxes. Up to $150 million in tax credits would be available in the first year.” While some of the money would support programs in public schools like after school and arts programs and pay for reimbursements to teachers in district and charter schools for supplies, “most of the available money—$137 million—would go toward the other two programs, one of which would offer scholarships for ‘low-income and other students,’ and the other offering $500 tuition checks for children from families earning less than $60,000. That, Cuomo and Dolan said, would help revitalize the state’s religious schools.”  In other words, people and corporations donating to the program would be able to subtract three-fourths of their gift from the amount of taxes they owe, and the money would be used primarily for vouchers for lower and middle income children to attend parochial schools, whose tuition is low enough to be offset by the amount of the voucher.

Billy Easton, Executive Director of New York’s Alliance for Quality Education, points out: “The education tax credit is outrageous.  Everyday taxpayers will be subsidizing donations to private schools by millionaires. These are our public tax dollars and they should be going to our public schools, not sheltering millionaires from taxes.”

New York has among the most inequitable school funding among all the states. In a March 2015 report, New York’s Fiscal Policy Institute explained that New York is neither adequately funding its public schools nor distributing state funding equitably to support sufficiently the poorest school districts unable to raise enough local taxes: “In 2006, more than a decade after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was first filed on behalf of students in New York City, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the state was failing to provide students with the classroom resources necessary to receive ‘the sound basic education’ that the state constitution guarantees.  The state legislature adopted the current Foundation to settle that lawsuit… However, years of austerity budgets have undermined the promise of the CFE settlement legislation—funding for school districts is just about where it was in fiscal year 2006-2007, and far behind where it was supposed to be in FY 2015-2016.  Total Foundation Aid is more than $5.7 billion below where it would have been if it had been fully funded at levels specified after the enactment of the CFE settlement legislation… The state should use the Foundation Aid formula to distribute increased school aid in order to direct more assistance to the districts with the highest needs.”

If New York’s public schools remain desperately in need of more funding, why is Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, proposing a new program to siphon needed public funds away from the public schools?  Clearly he has decided to bolster his own support among families who use parochial schools and from the rich donors who will qualify for the tax breaks they will receive when they donate to the tax credit program.  During his bid for re-election last fall, Governor Cuomo began adopting the language of the far-right: “Our education system is a public monopoly where the paradigm is the more money you spend, the better you will do.  You want more education for the student? Fund the bureaucracy with more money. That’s how we’ve been operating for years.” It is known that he is highly beholden to a group of New York hedge fund managers who have contributed generously to his political campaigns. Cuomo also recently forced through the legislature a bill making students’ standardized test scores count for 50 percent of each teacher’s evaluation, a bill that has been widely viewed as a frontal attack on public school teachers.

What does it mean that New York’s governor, a Democrat, has turned against public education and public school teachers?  The new proposal for vouchers is yet another symptom that Cuomo is way out of touch with public opinion across America.  At least I hope so.

Teachers College Sociologist Attacks Cuomo’s Strategy of Blaming School Teachers

Aaron Pallas, a sociologist and professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, responds to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attack on school teachers in the recent State of the State address and Cuomo’s plan to make the state’s teacher evaluations tougher.

Pallas quotes Cuomo: “Last year, less than one percent of teachers in New York State were rated ineffective; but state test results show that statewide only 35.8 percent of our students in 3rd through 8th grades were proficient in math and 31.4 percent were proficient in English Language Arts.  We must ask ourselves: how can so many of our students be failing if our teachers are all succeeding?”

Pallas, an academic, provides a scatterplot demonstrating the correlation of student poverty with tested academic proficiency: “In schools where 90 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 15 percent of the students are proficient.  Conversely, in schools where fewer than 10 percent of students are free-lunch-eligible, an average of 53 percent are proficient.  This is not because all of the good teachers are in low-poverty schools.”  Pallas suggests that, failing to understand the concept of risk adjustment, Cuomo neglects to consider “factors outside of the teacher’s (or school’s) control such as a student’s prior academic achievement or socioeconomic background.”

Pallas also reminds us that students’ test scores were higher across New York before the state instituted new standardized tests based on the Common Core standards.  Scores dropped immediately.  “Setting standards is a political process infused with values. Teachers across the state of New York haven’t suddenly gotten worse,” writes Pallas. “Their students are being asked to do more.”

Pallas suggests that a different diagnosis of the problem would result in a different treatment.  “The governor’s diagnosis… is that the problem lies in our state’s teachers.  The treatment?  Increasing the role of standardized tests in annual evaluations of teacher performance, and requiring that teachers have five consecutive ratings of ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’ to be eligible for tenure.”  What treatment would be a better choice for the problem of low test scores? “We could start by honoring the state’s obligation to fund school districts at a level adequate for a sound basic education.  Since 2007, the state legislature and a series of governors have ignored the New York State Court of Appeals’ ruling to direct several billions of dollars of funding annually to the state’s neediest school districts.”

Cuomo’s chosen strategy of making teacher evaluation more dependent on students’ standardized test scores and making it harder to achieve tenure are likely, in Pallas’ opinion, to cause another very serious problem.  “If the governor’s proposal were enacted… I estimate the odds of a teacher earning the due process protections of tenure within six years at just under 50 percent.  In the meantime, the governor’s proposal would allow the firing of any probationary teacher at any time without cause.  This would make entering teaching in the state of New York a very high-risk career choice.”

In the context of the Alliance for Quality Education’s new report, Record Setting Inequality: New York State’s Opportunity Gap is Wider than Ever, last week this blog critiqued Governor Andrew Cuomo’s education policies here.

It Is Spring and Big-Money Conferences on School “Reform” Bloom

I  was educated in the public schools of small town Havre, Montana, and my children were educated in the public schools of inner-ring suburban Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  I am a strong believer in public education—publicly funded, universally available, required to accept all children who present themselves at the door, and accountable to the public. A public system seems to me the optimal way to balance the needs of each particular child and family with the need to create a system that secures the rights and addresses the needs of all children. While public education is not a utopia, I believe it has fewer structural flaws, from the point of view of the common good, than privatized alternatives.

How quaint seem my attitudes this month when the money blooming around privatizing public schools is far more lush than the flowers of spring.   Privatization—privately managed charters, vouchers,  all the private contracting that creates and services all the standardized testing, and the education technology sector—is rapidly expanding.  There is money to be made and power to be wielded.

Two national conferences in the next couple of weeks demonstrate the impact of money in education this spring.  Beginning yesterday, the Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley Education Innovation Summit is meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Diane Ravitch quotes the sponsors of the conference:  “Our founders have spent the past two decades focused on the Megatrends that are disrupting the $4 trillion global education market along with the innovators who are transforming the industry.”

The long list of speakers includes a who’s who of supporters of “corporate” education reform: Margaret Spellings (George Bush’s Secretary of Education), Penny Pritzker (portfolio school reform supporter in Chicago before she became Secretary of Commerce), Jim Shelton (formerly director of education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, now Assistant Secretary of Education), Jeb Bush (former Florida Governor and through his Foundation for Excellence in Education a proponent of awarding schools and school districts A-F grades), Christopher Cerf (now with Rupert Murdoch’s Amplify ed tech company, formerly Governor Chris Christie’s New Jersey commissioner of education), and Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix and vocal supporter of the elimination of elected boards of education).  The 49 sponsors of the conference include publishers, test designers and data processors like Pearson, McGraw Hill Education, and Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt; for-profit universities like Apollo, DeVry, and Kaplan; tech companies like Microsoft, and philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over 100 companies are slated to present their wares.

Maggie Severns at Politico describes the reason for the conference: “Capital flows into companies serving the K-12 and higher education markets jumped to $650 million last near—nearly double the $331 million invested in those spheres in 2009.”

Or if you want a different kind of education “reform” experience, you can make your way to an Adirondack Camp at Lake Placid, New York on May 4-6 to “reform, relax, retreat.”  Your host will be the Honorable Andrew Cuomo, New York’s charter-friendly governor.  Hofstra professor Alan Singer describes what is to be called Camp Philos in this fascinating piece at Huffington Post. The fee for normal participants is $1,000, but VIPs can pay $2,500 for the three day event being sponsored by Education Reform Now, which Singer describes as closely but unofficially tied to Democrats for Education Reform, the pro-charter, hedge fund-supported, pro-privatization national PAC.

This event isn’t about making money from education; instead it is about using money to shape education policy.  The sponsors are the people who, for example, used their money to ensure that Governor Cuomo blocked New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempt to reign in the Success Academy charter school network of powerful Eva Moskowitz.  Singer notes that Education Reform Now has made campaign gifts to Cuomo since 2010 that add up to $65,000.  “The Education Reform Now Board of Directors,” writes Singer, “reads like a list of hedge fund royalty.”  Board members head up Highfields Capital Management, Cornwall Capital, Bain & Company, Sessa Capital, Gotham Capital, Covey Capital, Maverick Capital, Charter Bridge Capital… and the list goes on.

M. Night Shyamalan, the film maker, is also a sponsor.  According to Singer, Shyamalan “attended elite private schools as a youth, decided he is an education expert and wrote a book about saving public schools after filming in a Philadelphia public high school.”  Shyamalan’s preferred genre, however, is not the public education documentary;  Singer lists Shyamalan’s Hollywood horror films: After Earth, Devil, The Happening, The Village, and The Sixth Sense.

Singer concludes: “According to the online agenda, break-out sessions include discussions on ‘The Next Big Thing: Groundbreaking Approaches to Teacher Preparation,’ ‘Up, Down, and Sideways: Building an Effective School Reform Coalition,’ ‘Tight-Lose Options for Ensuring All Kids Have Access to a Great Education,’ and ‘Collaborative Models for Changing State and Local Teacher Policies.’ But really only one topic will be discussed — How to promote and profit from the privatization of public education in the United States.”

Portfolio School Reform: What Does It Mean in Chicago? Newark? New York City?

Controversy about charter schools has heated up this spring in New York City, over whether charter schools should be co-located into buildings shared by traditional public schools and whether charter schools ought to be charged rent; in Newark, over Governor Chris Christie and state appointed caretaker superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark Plan that would close traditional schools and fire teachers; and in Chicago, where traditional public schools continue to be closed because they are, supposedly, under-enrolled but at the same time new charters are permitted by the school district to open right down the block.

What’s happening in these and other cities raises questions about the theory of “portfolio school reform” that is driving school district policy in many cities these days. NYC and Chicago count themselves among the over 40 districts in what the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington calls its Portfolio School District Network; Newark is implementing the strategy as well.

Portfolio School Reform is the idea developed and promoted by the Center, which posts on its website a map of over 40 school districts that have formally adopted this strategy. When you cut through the rhetoric,”portfolio school reform” means that the district is managed like a business portfolio—sloughing off the schools whose scores are low and opening new, and it is to be hoped, more successful schools—all in a perpetual cycle.  Stability is not a virtue sought in “portfolio school reform” strategy.

If you dig a little deeper into the website, you will find that the Center’s current funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Walton Family Foundation.  These are all reliable supporters of privatization and school choice.

The Center proclaims, “The portfolio strategy gives families the freedom to attend their neighborhood schools or choose one that is the best fit for their child….  And it relies on district leadership to support and expand successful schools until every child in the district is in a great school.”  Notice that while this definition features the concepts of freedom and choice, it doesn’t really explain how this is to be accomplished—through closing public schools and opening privatized alternatives. Nor does the definition wrestle with the question about whether all children can be provided a great school through a system of school choice driven by standardized test scores. After all the portfolio strategy is a competitive strategy and all competitions have losers as well as winners.  Because test scores reflect family wealth more than any other variable, what this usually means in practice is that children in the big city neighborhoods with the most concentrated poverty will find themselves in the schools being closed.

Some of the most penetrating analysis of today’s “portfolio school reform” theory may be found in a book written by Michael Fabricant and Michelle Fine and published by Teachers College Press in 2012: Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education.  Fabricant and Fine write: “The rationing of charter education has resulted in an increasing clamor for exit, an intensifying allure of all things private, and the migration of public resources out of neighborhood schools in the poorest areas.  This intensifying disinvestment is accompanied by ever more symbolic forms of public education reform that substitute modest investments in a small number of communities…. The bottom line is that if we are serious about education reform, it will require that the 95% of students not affected by charter schooling be paid equal attention…  Ultimately charter policy hides a profound failure of political will—more specifically, a failure of business, legislative, and media leadership to support the kinds of budgets, taxation, and targeted investment necessary to revive public education as a key element of social and economic development and racial justice in the poorest communities.” (p. 87)

Two articles this week update concerns about portfolio school reform:

In Chicago: Dan Mihalopoulos who has been investigating the implications of “portfolio school reform” in Chicago for the Sun Times collaborates with Darnell Little, editor of the Medill Data Project at Northwestern University in a Sun Times front page report, A Push for Charter Schools, But Little Difference in Test Scores. Despite that “Chicago has ordered the closings of dozens of neighborhood public schools while approving a new wave of publicly financed, privately operated charter schools, in a much-touted effort to improve education,”  Mihalopoulos and Little report data to confirm that students in traditional public schools are scoring comparably to, or sometimes outscoring, their charter school counterparts on standardized tests. The Sun Times investigation quotes Terry Mazany, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Community Trust, formerly interim CEO of the Chicago schools, and longtime supporter of portfolio school reform, who expresses concern about the new  data: “The growth of charter schools is based on the hypothesis that choice drives improvement. What we’ve seen from your analysis is that choice is not sufficient…. It’s not a silver bullet.”

In Newark: Bob Braun, 50-year reporter for The Star-Ledger, posts a new investigation on his blog of the operation of Cami Anderson’s school administration and those working with her to implement the “portfolio,” One Newark Plan by which she has said she will close a mass of schools and fire one third of Newark’s teachers.  In the context of this upheaval and purported cost-cutting, Braun examines enormous raises recently granted to administrators who are charged with implementing One Newark. “A third of Newark’s public school teachers face layoffs.  The contracts of seven employee unions, including nurses, cafeteria workers, and laborers, have expired and the administration of state (appointed) superintendent Cami Anderson refuses to settle.  Counselors were laid off.  Public schools have been stripped of assets and allowed to crumble.  Cami drove the district into a $40 million budget hole but, despite all that, she has given hefty raises to the district’s top administrators…. The sizable ‘leadership’ team raises began in the summer of 2012 and continued until a few weeks ago… Of the 18 highest paid administrators in Newark, 12 have ties with Cami through the various organizations she served—New York City schools (under Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein), Teach for America, New Leaders, or charter schools.  The nine who make $175,000 or more draw as high a salary as the governor himself, sometimes higher  The Newark school administration is to Cami Anderson what the Port Authority was to Chris Christie before Bridgegate–a publicly funded home for cronies.”

In New York City:  A recent post summarizes this blog’s extensive coverage of the ongoing conflict—about portfolio reform and protection of charter schools—between Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Fabricant and Fine conclude their excellent book, Charter Schools and the Corporate Makeover of Public Education, with this observation: “Entering the contested terrain of public education is an essential act of citizenship precisely because it demonstrates our commitment to preserving a racially and economically just public sphere and larger democracy.  Either we are prepared to struggle for a future built on a rock-solid foundation of a well-funded education system available for all children, or we all suffer in the quicksand of shifting resources from a starved public education system to privatized alternatives.” (p. 130)

Diane Ravitch Explains Why New York’s Governor Cuomo Loves Charters

This morning in a very important blog post,  Why Cuomo Loves Charters, Diane Ravitch connects the financial dots.  New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo has received political financial backing from the leaders of New York’s very powerful charter school sector.  Cuomo’s financial backers include powerful members of the board of Success Academy Charter Schools; Great Public Schools—Eva Moskowitz’s own PAC; and Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) , the national pro-charter school PAC.

I urge you to read Ravitch’s post and the articles linked to it which detail the size of financial contributions made to Cuomo’s political campaigns.  It is important to follow the money trail.

I blogged earlier today about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s over-the-top praise this week for charter schools and especially for Eva Moskowitz’s politically connected Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City.

Cuomo has made it his business to support Moskowitz and her charter network and to oppose New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio’s request for enabling legislation in Albany to allow New York City to tax those with incomes over $500,000 annually for pre-kindergarten for thousands of children and middle school after-school programs for New York City’s children.

Mayor deBlasio has prioritized the needs of the traditional public schools in New York City which continue to serve the vast majority of the district’s 1.1 million students.  He has criticized NYC’s practice of allowing charters to co-locate in New York City’s public school facilities without paying rent.  deBlasio has said that well-funded charter networks like Success Academy Charter Schools should have to pay for the facilities they occupy.  After all, Eva Moskowitz’s board pays her an annual salary of $475,000, twice the salary of New York’s schools chancellor.

Fight Heats Up in New York Over Politically Connected Charter Schools

I wonder if you have ever been to a hearing at your state capitol when the charter school lobbying armies come to town?  I have, and I must say I found it very intimidating to testify in a room where I was one of only half-a-dozen people speaking for public school funding among hundreds wearing matched t-shirts and trying to protect their particular charter. Can you imagine what people would say about the waste of tax dollars if a public school district closed school for the day and bused all the parents, children, teachers, and school administrators to storm the legislature?

That is what Eva Moskowitz, the proprietor of the Success Academy Charter  Schools did on Tuesday in New York.  The NY Times reports that Moskowitz closed 22 of her schools for the day so that children and parents could be transported to Albany.  Moskowitz was well connected during the Bloomberg era.  The new Mayor, Bill deBlasio, has accused Moskowitz of manipulating NYC politics to deprive the 1.1 million children in New York City’s public schools of funds intended for the public system.  Moskowitz’s $475,000 annual salary is more than double the salary of the school district’s chancellor.

Mayor deBlasio has openly challenged Moskowitz’s power.  “And another thing that has to change starting January is that Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place,” the NY Times quotes deBlasio as having announced at a rally last year.  “I have had a lot of contact with Eva over the years and this is documented.  She was giving the orders and chancellors were bowing down and agreed.  That’s not acceptable.”

The new mayor campaigned on the promise that under his watch the city would stop giving well-heeled charter schools free rent when charters co-locate in buildings that house the city’s traditional public schools.  And last week, while deBlasio and his new chancellor of schools, Carmen Farina, approved several of Moskowitz’s schools for next fall, they denied Moskowitz the right to open three schools because these particular plans would co-locate children in the primary grades into spaces in high schools where Farina believes safety issues could arise or would displace programs for children with special needs.

Moskowitz has been able to manipulate political power on behalf of her charter schools for some time.  For example, back in the summer of 2012, the State University of New York’s Charter Schools Committee granted a 50 percent increase in the tax-generated per-pupil management fee to Success Academy Charter Schools despite that the Success Network had posted a year-end surplus of $23.5 million and spent nearly $883,119 on publicity and student recruitment in the last year including fees of $243,150 to SKD Knickerbocker, a New York pubic relations firm, and $129,000 to a Washington, D.C. consulting firm.  Moskowitz’s well funded schools have resulted in bitterness among parents in the traditional schools where the charters have been co-located, because the public schools lack money to purchase the kind of equipment and programming Moskowitz’s schools provide—right in neighboring classrooms.

Serious questions have been raised over the years about attrition at Moskowitz’s Success Academies as one reason the schools have been able to post high test scores.  It is suspected that children who struggle are being counseled out of school as they move toward the upper grades.  What is known is that the Success Academies serve fewer students with special needs and children learning English.  The NY Times reports that Chancellor Farina recently raised these concerns: “Chancellor Farina said on Tuesday that while some charter schools ‘do great work’ in helping children with special needs, or those with limited English proficiency, Ms. Moskowitz  ‘makes it clear these are kids she cannot help, necessarily, because she doesn’t have the resources for them.'”

Eva Moskowitz clearly has one prominent supporter.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo showed up at Moskowitz’s Albany rally where he is reported to have declared, “We are here today to tell you that we stand with you.  You are not alone.  We will save charter schools.”

Mayor deBlasio attended another Albany rally instead, a rally of supporters for his proposal for universal pre-kindergarten for all of New York City’s children and for after school programs for pre-adolescents in the city’s middle schools. Governor Cuomo was not in attendance at this rally.