college try

As budget process comes down to the wire, groups call on lawmakers to support neediest students in college tuition plan

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Cuomo proposes making college tuition-free for New York’s middle-class families.

As the New York state legislature races toward an April budget deadline, more voices are calling for a college affordability plan that provides additional help to low-income families.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the Excelsior Scholarship — which would make state college tuition-free for families earning less than $125,000 per year — the plan was met with a chorus of excitement, but also concern that it didn’t do enough for poor students.

As the April 1 deadline approaches, lawmakers and advocacy groups are scrambling to submit plans that improve on the governor’s plan.

New York’s Education Trust released a report Thursday that zooms in on the burden of college debt on low-income students and argues that Excelsior does not fully address this problem.

“It’s not that we are in any way against providing aid for middle class families,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of New York’s Education Trust. “It’s, let’s make it so lower- and middle-class families have what they need to go to college.”

Even though state tuition is typically covered by a combination of state and federal aid for families making less than $48,000 a year, students living in those communities still have upwards of $20,000 of student loan debt on average.

That’s because tuition at New York state public institutions makes up only 29 to 36 percent of the total cost of college, according to Ed Trust’s analysis. The rest is comprised of books, fees, housing and other expenses. Lower-income families are also much more likely to have trouble paying back their loans, according to the study.

State officials said New York already provides $1 billion in aid to low-income students and that Excelsior will ensure all low-income students maximize the money they receive.

A different proposal, called the “NY Student Plan,” released by the advocacy group Young Invincibles this week, provides one possible solution to help the state’s neediest families. The group argues that rather than offer free tuition to full-time students in families earning under $125,000 per year, lawmakers should increase state funding to cover tuition so that low-income students could use federal aid from Pell grants to pay for books, fees and rent.

Under the plan, substantially more students would receive the maximum state financial assistance benefit. The plan also suggests investing in programs at SUNY and CUNY that can provide the advising and support students need once they get to college.

“The idea here is that more students get more aid,” said Kevin Stump, northeast regional director for Young Invincibles. (The group’s plan also triples the state’s minimum financial award, which means compared to what they receive now, middle-class families would receive more aid.)

It’s unclear whether lawmakers will embrace these ideas. The next test is whether additional support for low-income college students is included in the Assembly or Senate’s one-house budget bills. (An Assembly spokesman said the chamber plans to release its bill on Monday and a Senate spokesman did not provide a date.)

At least some lawmakers appear interested. The Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats that collaborates with Republicans in the state Senate, released a wide-ranging plan that includes re-establishing the “Liberty Scholarship,” which provides help for full-time and part-time students to help offset the cost of non-tuition expenses.

And last week, 30 Assembly members signed onto a letter asking that the Excelsior program cover remaining tuition costs for low-income families, so they can use their Pell grants to pay for non-tuition expenses.

In the Senate, a spokesman for Senator Jeff Klein, who heads the IDC, said college affordability will likely be tackled, but how is still unclear.

College affordability issues more broadly will likely be included in the Assembly’s one-house budget bill and, according to Assemblymember James Skoufis, who drafted the letterthe Assembly majority is “seriously considering” an increase to TAP funding that would allow more students to use their federal Pell grants to cover other expenses like rent and food.


Judge orders Nashville schools to turn over student information to state charters

A Nashville judge has sided with Tennessee’s Achievement School District in the tussle over whether local school districts must share student contact information with charter networks under a new state law.

Chancellor Bill Young this week ordered Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools to turn over information requested by LEAD Public Schools, which operates two state-run schools in the city. The district has until March 16 to comply or appeal.

The ruling is a blow to local district leaders in both Nashville and Memphis, who have argued that a federal privacy law gives them discretion over who gets that information. They also contend that the intent of Tennessee’s new charter law, which passed last year, was that such information should not be used for marketing purposes.

The State Department of Education has backed information requests by LEAD in Nashville and Green Dot Public Schools in Memphis, both of which operate charter schools under the state-run turnaround district known as the ASD. State officials say the information is needed to increase parental awareness about their school options and also to help the state’s school turnaround district with planning.

Nashville’s school board has not yet decided whether to appeal Young’s ruling, according to Lora Fox, the city’s attorney.

Shelby County Schools was not included in the state’s lawsuit leading to this week’s ruling, but the case has implications for Memphis schools as well. Last summer, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered both districts to turn over the information. Both have been defiant.

Lawyers representing all sides told Chalkbeat this week that Young set the March 16 deadline to allow time for the legislature to address ambiguity over the state law and for Nashville schools to notify parents of their right to opt out.

Rep. Bill Forgety already has filed a bill in an attempt to do clear the air. The Athens Republican chaired the key House committee that advanced the new charter law and has said that recruitment was not the intent of the provision over student contact information. His bill would restrict charter school requests to a two-month window from January 1 to March 1, confine school communication with non-students from February 1 to April 1, and open up a two-way street for districts to request the same information from charter schools.

The disagreement began with longstanding requests from state-run charter organizations for addresses, phone numbers and emails of students and their parents who live in neighborhoods zoned to low-performing schools. When local districts did not comply last summer, the charters cited the new state law requiring them to hand over student information to the charter schools within 30 days of receiving the request.

To learn what information is at stake and how it’s used, read our in-depth explainer on student data sharing and FERPA.

Who Is In Charge

Inner circle: Here is the team helping Ferebee chart a new course for Indianapolis schools

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee has been leading Indianapolis’ largest school district for nearly five years. But in recent months, his circle of advisers has seen some notable changes.

Two leaders who played essential roles in crafting the district plan to close nearly half its high schools and create specialized academies at the remaining campuses have left for other jobs. And a new chief of staff has joined the district as Ferebee’s deputy.

As 2018 begins, the district is at a watershed moment that includes redesigning high schools and appealing to voters for $936 million more in school funding over the next eight years. Here are the eight lieutenants who report directly to Ferebee.

Ahmed Young, chief of staff

PHOTO: Provided by Indianapolis Public Schools
Ahmed Young
  • Salary: $150,000
  • Hired: 2017
  • Duties: General counsel, managing a portfolio of issues related to risk management, IPS Police, student assignment, human resources, and research, accountability and evaluation.
  • His story: Young is the newest member of Ferebee’s team. Before joining in October, he oversaw charter schools for the administration of Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. Young has a background in education and in law. He taught middle school in Lawrence Township and New York City schools, then practiced law as a prosecutor for the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and at Bose McKinney & Evans. Young has a secondary education degree and a law degree from Indiana University.

Le Boler, chief strategist

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Le Boler
  • Salary: $136,000
  • Hired: 2013
  • Duties: Leads strategic planning, public relations, and parent involvement. She is responsible for fundraising and collaboration with outside organizations.
  • Bio: Boler is one of Ferebee’s closest advisors. She worked with Ferebee in Durham Public Schools, where she was a program strategist, and joined him in Indianapolis at the start of his administration. She also worked with him at Guilford County Schools. She started her career in education through administration support roles for districts in North Carolina. Boler earned a B.A. in business leadership from Ashford University, a mostly online college based in San Diego, and she is pursuing a certificate in strategy and performance management from Georgetown University.

Weston Young, chief financial manager

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Weston Young
  • Salary: $140,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Oversees budgeting and management of finances. Participates in procurement, accounting, financial reporting, audits, investments, debt service, and economic development issues.
  • His story: Young came to Indianapolis from the private sector, where he was a wealth manager in Zionsville. Previously he worked as a manager, tax consultant, and accountant. He is a CPA with a degree in accounting and business from Taylor University.

Aleesia Johnson, innovation officer

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Aleesia Johnson
  • Salary: $125,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Oversees innovation schools, including supporting schools, and developing processes for recruiting and selecting school leadership, evaluating existing schools and ending contracts with underperforming schools.
  • Her story: When Johnson joined the superintendent’s team, it was a clear sign of the district’s growing collaboration with charter schools. Before joining IPS, she led KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory, the local campus of one of the largest national charter networks. She previously worked for Teach for America and as a middle school teacher. Johnson has a BA from Agnes Scott College, a master’s degree in social work from University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in teaching from Oakland City University.

Scott Martin, deputy superintendent of operations

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Scott Martin
  • Salary: $150,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Oversees all non-academic operations, including facilities, construction management, maintenance, transportation, technology, and child nutrition.
  • His story: Martin came to Indianapolis from Davenport, Iowa, where he oversaw support services for a district of about 16,000 students. He also previously spent nearly a decade with the district in Columbus, Indiana. He has a degree in organizational leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Tammy Bowman, curriculum officer

  • Salary: $125,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Oversees curriculum, professional development, gifted, and prekindergarten programs.
  • Bio: Bowman came to Indianapolis from North Carolina, where she oversaw a high school academy for five years. She was director of the early college program, AVID coordinator, Title I coordinator, and a beginning teacher coordinator. She previously taught elementary and middle school. She has education degrees from University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a counseling degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, and a certificate in administration from Western Carolina University.

Joe Gramelspacher, special project director

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Joe Gramelspacher
  • Salary: $100,000
  • Hired: 2014
  • Duties: Manages the administrative affairs of the Superintendent’s Office, coordinates the monthly work of the Board of School Commissioners, and leads and serves on special project teams.
  • His story: Gramelspacher previously served as special assistant to the superintendent. He began his career in education as a math teacher with Teach for America in Colorado and then in Indianapolis. He has degrees in finance and economics from Indiana University and is a 2017 Broad Resident.

Zach Mulholland, board administrator

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Zach Mulholland
  • Salary: $100,000
  • Hired: 2015
  • Duties: Manages operations for the Indianapolis Public Schools Board, including developing board policy, developing agendas and schedules, and assisting the board president.
  • His story: Before joining the district, Mulholland was a research analyst for the Indiana University Public Policy Institute Center for Urban Policy and the Environment. He has degrees in political science and economics from Wabash College and a law degree from Indiana University.