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contracts for excellence
October 9, 2013
City again plans to skip public hearings on spending plan
The city is poised to disregard mandatory public hearings about how hundreds of millions of dollars get spent in high-need schools for the sixth straight year. The hearings, which are supposed to take place in all five boroughs, have been required by state law since city schools began receiving extra state funds known as "Contracts for Excellence" in 2007. The money came out of a landmark lawsuit settlement that awarded aid to schools with large populations of poor students. But the city has skipped the meetings since 2009, a trend that advocates say is not just a blatant violation of the law. They argue it also means the loss of a crucial accountability step to ensure the funds are spent appropriately, and a missed opportunity to include parents and community members in decision-making. "I find it just the latest example of DOE's refusal to engage parents and the public in a meaningful discussion about priorities," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer wrote in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott this week.
January 17, 2012
Also in Cuomo's budget: restored exams and other ed initiatives
The fight over teacher evaluations occupied much of Gov. Cuomo's education talk during his budget address today. But his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in April actually contains a host of other education policy proposals. Here are some details about each of them. Cuomo's budget proposes to: Make more funding dependent on performance. Cuomo announced a first round of competitive grants for districts that boost test scores and cut costs a year ago and started taking applications in November. Today, he steered another $250 million in competitive grants into that program. Target school aid to high-needs districts. A little more than $300 million of the $800 million in school aid increases will be targeted to the state's highest-need districts. The Alliance for Quality Education — whose head, Billy Easton, has drawn criticism from Cuomo's camp for being "a paid lobbyist for the teachers union" — praised the decision but raised concerns about the competitive component of the state aid proposal. Reverse budget cuts to the state's testing program. Last year, the Board of Regents closed a budget gap by slashing $8 million from the state's testing program. The cut caused the state to eliminate January Regents exams, which some high school students must pass to graduate. In August, Mayor Bloomberg announced that private donors had pitched in to pay for the tests for one year. Next year, public funds will pay for the tests once again.
November 15, 2011
DOE's newest class size data confirms increases across city
Chart showing trends in K-3 class size. From Class Size Matters PowerPoint presentation. (Click to enlarge.) Preliminary class size data that the city released today confirms what the teachers union has tallied: Class sizes are on the rise. Classes grew most this year in kindergarten through third grade, where the average size increased by just under one student since last year to 23.1. On average, classes in those grades are now three students larger than they were in the 2006-2007 school year. They are largest in Queens and Staten Island and smallest in Manhattan. Classes in those grades are now the largest they have been since 1998, according to a PowerPoint presentation prepared by parent activist Leonie Haimson for Class Size Matters, a group that she runs to advocate for smaller classes. Class sizes have also inched up in upper elementary, middle, and high school grades, but not by as much, according to the city's new numbers. In all grades, average class sizes exceed the goals set forth in the 2007 Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit settlement, which required the state to earmark extra funds for New York City schools to use for six different purposes, including reducing class size.
October 12, 2010
Fair funding report raises question about NY's school spending
The Rutgers University report on equitable school funding released today highlights that how a state distributes its education funds could matter as much as how much it spends. The report ranked New York close to the bottom among states in terms of how much it spends on impoverished students compared to students in low-poverty districts. (The full report is below.) The top-ranked state, Utah, spends one and a half times more per student in needy districts than in districts with no impoverished students. By contrast, in New York, districts with high concentrations of students in poverty spend just over 80 percent of what the wealthiest districts spend. Geri Palast, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said the analysis pointed to the need to re-work how the state doles out money among school districts. "In an era where we continue to impose ever greater standards on school kids, the fact that funding inequality persists to this degree — especially in a state like this one, where a lot of money is invested but the poorest kids don't get their fair share — we have to rethink how we use and distribute our dollars," she said.
January 5, 2010
After years of complaints, union sues city over class size dollars
UFT President Michael Mulgrew announces the union's lawsuit. Behind Mulgrew are, from left to right, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, NAACP NY President Hazel Dukes, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Yolanda Morales, a plaintiff in the suit. The city teachers union, along with a coalition of parents and advocacy groups, sued the Department of Education this morning, charging it with not spending allocated state money on reducing class sizes. Since 2007, the state has allocated nearly $761 million for class size reduction, yet class sizes in schools across the city have risen over the past two years. The lawsuit accuses the DOE of causing the class size increase by willfully misusing those funds. "As far as we are concerned, this is deliberate," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a press conference at union headquarters this morning. "New York City how has the highest class sizes in New York State," Mulgrew said. "$760 million, for what?" The lawsuit, filed this morning in the State Supreme Court in the Bronx, was brought by a coalition of parents, activist groups, the UFT, the New York chapter of the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation. “The charges are without merit," DOE Press Secretary David Cantor said.
October 13, 2009
DOE likely to increase class size targets, official says
The city's Department of Education will likely lift the ceiling on class sizes this year, a department official said today. DOE chief operating officer Photeine Anagnostopoulos told the City Council education committee this morning that it was realistic to expect the city to "adjust" its class size targets. How dramatic the increases will be is still unclear, she said. "We have to go back and do some more homework," Anagnostopoulos said. Anagnostopoulous' comments came during a hearing on the department's use of state Contracts for Excellence funding. The funds are given to school districts that prove they will spend the funds in six key areas, one of which is class size reduction.
August 19, 2009
City is seeking parent help to schedule those skipped hearings
The city is asking elected parent leaders to help it hold mandatory public hearings about school funding that should have happened in June. The state requires all school districts to hold annual hearings about they plan to allocate Contracts for Excellence dollars, state education funds that can be spent only in certain ways. Other districts held their hearings in June, according to the schedule set out in the law. But New York City did not. (Remember, those were heady days for the city, with mayoral control's expiration date rapidly approaching.) After Anna reported last week that the hearings hadn't happened, state officials said they were merely being rescheduled. Now we have a hint of when the hearings might be held. Martine Guerrier, head of the education department's Office of Family Engagement and Advocacy, sent an e-mail to district parent councils today asking them to help run local hearings in September. "We are committed to meeting our statutory requirements for Contracts for Excellence and ask for your support in partnering with the Department to hold public hearings on the 2009-2010 plan at the beginning of the school year," Guerrier wrote. She said her office would help the councils hold the hearings either during one of their regularly scheduled meetings or at a separate time. Guerrier's full letter to district parent councils is after the jump.
August 14, 2009
State misspoke: City must hold hearings to receive school aid
New York City cannot spend state school aid until it holds mandatory hearings on how the money will be used, the state said on Wednesday, correcting an earlier statement that the city could already use the funds. The state funding, known as Contracts for Excellence, is only doled out to districts that prove they will spend the money in certain kinds of programs pre-approved by state school officials, such as training for teachers and principals, and reducing class size. This summer, the city's Department of Education skipped the mandated date for hearings, and is now saying that the hearings will be held when the new school year begins in September. "Contracts cannot be approved without proper public hearings being held," Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the state education department wrote in an email on Thursday. "Contracts need to be reviewed and approved before any contract funds are released by the State Education Dept." Previously, the state had said that the city could use funds continuing last year's contract, and only money for "new purposes" would require the commissioner's approval. The state’s grim financial picture has meant that the city will not receive an increase over the amount it was given last year. A spokeswomen for the city DOE, Ann Forte, said that even though the state has yet to approve the contract, the city Office of Management and Budget has fronted the money to its schools.
August 11, 2009
City skipped mandatory public hearings on spending plan
The last months' governance craziness overshadowed what had become a summer ritual: The process by which the city proposes how it wants to spend state Contracts for Excellence dollars, and the public gets to respond with its thoughts at formal hearings. The hearings happen because Contracts for Excellence dollars are only doled out to districts that prove they will spend the money in certain kinds of programs pre-approved by state school officials. But this summer, the New York City Department of Education skipped over the mandated date for hearings, which are supposed to occur in all five boroughs, without holding them. A public comment period will be postponed until the fall, but New York state plans to send the city the funds anyway, before that happens. "Funds that are continuing last year's Contract can be used," a state education spokesman, Jonathan Burman wrote in an email. The "commissioner's approval is required before funds allocated to new purposes can be used." The state's grim financial picture has meant that the city won't receive any more Contracts dollars than it did last year. An official at the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, whose lawsuit alleging that the city schools are historically under-funded by the state led to the creation of the Contracts for Excellence fund, said that the state's logic makes little sense given the tough fiscal climate.
May 27, 2009
Klein: Class sizes will rise next year, even with special funds
The city should be prepared to see the average class size continue to increase this fall, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told members of the City Council today. During a hearing this morning about the Department of Education's proposed budget, finance committee chair David Weprin asked Klein what might happen to class sizes next year, when school budgets are cut by more than 5 percent, especially given that schools used $84 million to reduce class sizes this year yet the average class size went up for the first time in several years. "I think they will increase, not dramatically," Klein said, explaining that the expected decline in the size of the teaching force through attrition would likely cause class sizes to inch up. Education committee chair Robert Jackson asked Klein how watchdogs can make sure that state class size reduction money is being spent on its intended purpose if class sizes continue to increase.
May 6, 2009
Why the class-size-reduction money failed to reduce class sizes
The chart plots a dot for every school that received state money to create new classrooms. The dot represents the amount of money the school received, and the amount that the school's average class size changed. (Data via the Department of Education) We've already reported that average class sizes citywide did not decline last year, despite an infusion of money meant to reduce them. New data suggest the same relationship happens at the school level: Even schools that reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on class-size reduction efforts, such as creating new classrooms, did not necessarily see a drop in average class sizes. Rather, while some schools that reported investing in new classrooms did end up reducing class sizes on average, others actually saw their average class size go up. The data, provided by the Department of Education following a tug-of-war that you might recall, are summarized in the graph above and in a searchable file available here. The major challenge, according to the schools official who compiled the data, Tania Shinkawa, is not that principals didn't spend the money as they were supposed to, but that even that pot of money didn't guarantee that they could lower class sizes across the board. Take Bronx elementary school PS 57, which reported that it spent $190,000 to open new classes. Let's be generous and say that the money could pay for three additional teachers. That could go a long way toward reducing class sizes in three grade levels. But would it necessarily lower the entire school's average class size? No.
February 17, 2009
DOE stands firm: The economy is what caused class sizes to rise
Jonathan is already skeptical of the Department of Education's explanation for why average class sizes are going up across almost all grades, despite an infusion of $150 million over the past year in funds earmarked to class-size reduction. The DOE's argument, embedded in a Power Point released today: It's the economy, stupid. The idea also bothers Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, who pointed out to me earlier today that the state actually increased funding to schools this year, while the city's budget cuts came with a promise that classrooms would be insulated. "What they're trying to do is confuse people about the current economic situation to somehow excuse the fact that class sizes went up in the past," Haimson said. The economy explanation first arose in a Power Point released today, and the DOE is sticking to it. On the telephone this afternoon, a spokesman, Will Havemann, said the rising class sizes can be traced back to a cut to schools of about $100 million in October, on top of another $100 million cut to schools in the middle of last year. The idea is that, with less money to spend, principals have decided not to hire additional staff when people retire. Not replacing retiring teachers means class sizes get bigger. Havemann said the city this school year had 440 fewer teachers working directly with students than it had the year before.
January 28, 2009
Halfway through the year, state approves DOE's spending plan
Testifying in front of the State Senate today, Chancellor Joel Klein mentioned that the Department of Education and the state had reached an agreement, finally, on how the city will spend $387.5 million in restricted funds. The money is part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement, which promised annual funding increases to needy school districts. To get the funds, districts must develop a plan, called a Contract for Excellence, that shows that they will spend the money on certain kinds of programs and to help the neediest students. The state and the city have wrangled in the past over how much flexibility the city should have over allocating the funds. The agreement, quietly released yesterday, signals that the state has approved the city's Contract for Excellence for this year and will disburse the funds. The breakdown of spending in the DOE's final plan (shown by program type above) is similar to what the department originally proposed back in July.
December 15, 2008
Despite spending infusion, city is not meeting class size targets
In the battle over whether to make class sizes smaller, the city appears to be scoring a win against the state. That's the picture painted in a report school officials sent to the City Council Friday. The report shows that, two years after the state poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the city with the aim of lowering class sizes, public school classes are on average larger than the target values in most grades. (View all recent class size data reported by the city here.) The figures are a relative win for the Department of Education, which has repeatedly dismissed the goal of reducing class sizes as a pipe dream that will not improve education.
November 10, 2008
New York City a straggler in getting state's spending approval
New York State Education Building New York City is one of just three cities that has not yet gotten approval for its plan for…
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