School Finance

Email to the editor: State budget protest coverage inadequate

Two weeks ago, members of the city’s Community Education Councils protested the state budget deal outside the New York Public Library and then marched to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office. Chalkbeat covered the event with a short post (“Rally against state budget draws hundreds to midtown“) and received the following letter to the editor in response:

Dear Chalkbeat:

We are writing to protest your inadequate coverage of the April 10th rally and march on the Governor’s office. Outraged by the charter giveaway that Governor Cuomo engineered with the help of the Legislature in this year’s state budget bill, many hundreds of parents, teachers and students gathered on the steps of the NY Public Library before marching  to the Governor’s office.
This unprecedented rally, organized primarily by Community Education Council members citywide, in just a week,grew out the anger and betrayal felt by parents and community members at the way the Governor and legislature essentially gave away NYC public schools  to millionaire education investors.

Rather than sending one of your reporters to cover this event, you only posted a short blurb clearly taken from the press release after the fact.  Chalkbeat’s failure to assign a reporter to the event  glaringly contrasts with your close and detailed coverage of every move made by the charter operators and their backers.  Indeed, you published two different stories on the charter march across the Brooklyn Bridge, three different stories on the Albany rally for charters (though you failed to disclose that Gov. Cuomo was actually behind it) ,  and  on March 29  you ran two stories on reactions to the budget bills, BOTH from the point of view of the charter operators.

Even more importantly, you have failed to cover any of the substantive issues and reasons behind our anger, including how unprecedented these charter provisions are, how they apply only to NYC, how they will  detract from the city’s already underfunded capital plan and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, while thousands of public school students will continue sit in trailers or in overcrowded classrooms, without art, music, science or therapy and counseling rooms, or on waiting lists for Kindergarten.

The very headline on the short ex-post facto blurb you ran on the  rally omitted any mention of the charter school issue, Your summary of the charter provisions in the budget bill as “safeguards for charters” was biased enough to have been written by the charter lobby itself.  In reality, the bill forces PREFERENTIAL treatment for charters, not safeguards.  There are overcrowded school communities in NYC that have been waiting for over 20 years for a public school to be built for their children, and they will continue to wait, while hedge-fund backed charters will now automatically receive space, on demand and free of charge.

It has not escaped our attention that the Walton Foundation helped finance the expansion of GothamSchools into Chalkbeat, and that the same organization is a prominent backer of the school privatization movement and contributed to the virulent $5 million ad campaign that directly led to the preferential provisions in the state law.  Your organization also counts among its financial backers many other prominent charter school supporters and board members, including the Gates Family Foundation,  Whitney Tilson, Boykin Curry, Paul Appelbaum , Ken Hirsch, Charles Ledley,  Kate Shoemaker and others.

In order  to appear unbiased by the sources of your funding and safeguard any journalistic credibility, your organization  should  cover the  point of view of the thousands of NYC public school parents who, though we may not be wealthy,  feel that our children have been dispossessed, displaced, and potentially evicted from their public schools, cheated out of their fair share of space.  We, too, represent an important constituency in the debate over privatization, and constitute an important voice to be heard.   We are concerned that your inadequate and one-sided coverage of the forced privatization of our schools has been unduly influenced by the same forces that have biased the Governor – the huge pocketbooks of the organizations and financiers that back them.

We urge you to publish this letter in your blog and respond to it.
Yours sincerely,
Shino Tanikawa, CECD2
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters
Lisa Donlan, CEC1
Teresa Arboleda, CCELL
Eric Goldberg, CECD2
Deborah Alexandar, CECD30
Theresa Hammonds, CECD3
David Goldsmith, CECD13
Ann Kjellberg
Valerie Williams, CECD75
Rachel Paster
Angela Garces, CECD6
Beth Cirone, CECD2
Ellen McHugh, CCSE
Victoria Frye, CECD6
Miriam Farer, CECD6
Isaac Carmignani, CECD30
Eduardo Hernandez, CECD8
Amy Shire, CECD13
Michelle Kupper, CECD15
Jordan Margolis, CECD14
Debbie Feiner, CECD14

Organizational affiliations for identification purpose only

The bottom line is that the protest was clearly well-attended and unique in its CEC-wide organization, and we wish we had been there.

We make decisions about coverage every day based on the fact that we can’t be at every relevant event in the city or it would be impossible for us to provide any deeper coverage of these issues. We regularly attend, and skip, events that reflect a variety of viewpoints. That’s why we work to keep readers informed about events we don’t make it to with posts like the one we wrote about this protest.

Those decisions have everything to with our sense of how we can best add to the “education conversation” happening across the city, and nothing to do with our funders—who make it possible to do what we do, but don’t influence our coverage.

Other feedback? We’re all ears.

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Indiana lawmakers OK up to $100 million to address funding shortage for schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Indiana lawmakers agreed to dip into reserves to make up a shortfall to get public schools the money they were promised — and they’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve the final plan in House Bill 1001. The bill now heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Rep. Tim Brown, a co-author of the bill and chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said it was necessary to take the uncommon step and have the state to use reserve funds to make up the gap, but in the next budget year making up that difference will be a priority. Brown said he, other lawmakers, and the Legislative Services Agency will work to make sure projections are more accurate going forward.

“Do procedures need to be changed?” Brown said. “We’re going to be asking those questions” during the next budget cycle.

Estimates on the size of the shortfall have ranged widely this year, beginning around $9 million and growing as new information and student counts came in. Projections from the Legislative Services Agency reported by the Indianapolis Star had the gap at $22 million this year and almost $60 million next year.

The final bill requires the state to transfer money from reserves if public school enrollment is higher than expected, as well as to make up any shortages for students with disabilities or students pursuing career and technical education. The state budget director would have to sign off first. Transfers from reserves are already allowed if more voucher students enroll in private schools than projected, or if state revenue is less than expected.

The budget shortfall, discovered late last year, resulted from miscalculations in how many students were expected to attend public schools over the next two years. Lawmakers proposed two bills to address the shortfall, and the House made it its highest legislative priority. The compromise bill would set aside up to $25 million for this year and up to $75 million next year. The money would be transferred from reserve funds to the state general fund and then distributed to districts.

The bill also takes into account two other programs that lawmakers think could be contributing to underestimated public school enrollment: virtual education programs and kids who repeat kindergarten.

District-based virtual education programs would be required to report to the state by October of each year on virtual program enrollment, total district enrollment, what grades the virtual students are in, where they live, and how much of their day is spent in a virtual learning program. These programs, unlike virtual charter schools, are not separate schools, so it can be hard for state officials and the public to know they even exist.

The report will help lawmakers understand how the programs are growing and how much they might cost, but it won’t include information about whether students in the programs are learning or graduating. Virtual charter schools in the state have typically posted poor academic results, and Holcomb has called for more information and action, though legislative efforts have failed.

Finally, the bill changes how kindergarteners are counted for state funding. The state changed the cut-off age for kindergarten to 5 years old by Aug. 1 — if students are younger than that, they can still enroll, but the district won’t receive state dollars for them. Some districts were allowing 4-year-olds to enroll in kindergarten early, Sen. Ryan Mishler said earlier this month. Then those same students would enroll in kindergarten again the next year.

Despite increases passed last year to boost the total education budget, many school leaders have said they struggle to pay salaries and maintain buildings, which is why funding shortfalls — even small ones — matter. This year’s unexpected shortfall was particularly problematic because districts had already made plans based on the state budget.

Find all of Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

let the games begin

Assembly pushes for $1.5 billion boost to education spending

PHOTO: Photo by Jonathan Fickies for UFT
UFT President Michael Mulgrew interviews New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

In a tight budget year, New York State’s Democratic-led Assembly wants to increase education spending by $1.5 billion, officials announced late Monday night.

The proposed increase  which would bring total education spending to $27.1 billion  is significantly more than the governor’s suggested $769 million increase. Still, the amount is a slightly smaller boost than the Assembly backed last year, which is likely a reflection of a difficult fiscal situation faced by the state this year.

State officials are fighting against a budget deficit, a federal tax plan that could harm New York, and the threat of further federal cuts. The potential lack of funding could be the only sticking point in an otherwise quiet budget year for education matters.

As part of its education agenda, the Assembly backed a number of programs it has in the past. The plan supports the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which is designed to help boys and young men of color reach their potential, and “community schools,” which act as service hubs that provide healthcare and afterschool programs.

The release of this plan kicks off the final stretch of the state’s budget process. The governor has already outlined his proposals and the Senate will likely follow soon, setting up the state’s annual last-minute haggling.

The budget is due by April 1, but could always be resolved later similar to last year.