a more perfect union

For teachers unions, budget is more proof of a pendulum shift in New York education policy

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

In an unlikely outcome, the charter school sector and the teachers union can both claim victory in this year’s budget deal.

The charter sector is excited about a funding boost, while the unions are relishing an ideological shift that got its start months ago and is borne out in the state’s newfound support for “community schools.”

The satisfaction of both groups points to a larger theme: In a shift, the budget had much more to do with haggling over funding than arguing over education policy.

“The whole tone difference was really nice,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “It was nice to work on education instead of fighting over everything.”

Charter schools will walk away with $54 million more in per-pupil spending, a number double what Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally proposed. Meanwhile, the state will invest $175 million in so-called community schools, which will provide wraparound services to students and families.

Pleasing both unions and charter schools is no small feat. But the union’s win is a bigger-picture victory that falls in line with other state policy shifts.

Last year, the unions unsuccessfully fought a teacher evaluation system that increased the weight of state standardized tests. By December, the governor had switched his stance on teacher evaluations and called for an overhaul of the state’s learning standards. With the direction of state policy shifted, lawmakers were free to focus on funding this year and kick policy decisions back to the State Education Department.

“There are members who will tell you that education dominates the budget each year, so for it not to fully dominate is a big win,” Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy said.

The largest education change in this year’s budget, which gives more resources to struggling schools, solidifies the shift in emphasis from accountability-focused changes to resource-driven reform. It is a proposal that Mulgrew says he can get behind.

“I love the community and learning school stuff,” Mulgrew said. “You know how much we’re invested in this as a union.”

Carl Korn, spokesman for the state teachers union, agrees that there was a decided tone change. Last year, the union spent most of its time protesting, while this year he watched “the pendulum swinging,” he said.

As the unions celebrate the state’s big-picture changes, charter schools showed that they could still score their own budget wins. Not only did they come out with much more funding than first proposed, they also avoided a union-backed measure that would withhold money from charter schools that do not enroll a certain percentage of high-needs students.

Charter advocates did not succeed in unfreezing the city’s funding formula, which would allow charter school funding to increase at the same rate as district school funding. But that policy will end next year, and charter sector leaders say they are unconcerned.

“This is a good budget for charter schools, the students they serve and the State of New York,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

But the increased charter school funding and a failure to pass the legislation to withhold further charter school funding did not dampen Mulgrew’s view of the deal.

“We’re making progress,” he said.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”