handshake agreement

City budget includes influx for school accessibility, social workers for homeless students

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio

After months of negotiations, Mayor Bill de Blasio reached a handshake budget deal with City Council this week that includes a funding boost to make schools more accessible to students with physical disabilities and a modest increase in the number of social workers who serve the city’s growing population of homeless students.

Some of the biggest education items in the mayor’s $89 billion deal had been announced months earlier or were long-anticipated, including a $125 million increase in school budgets, and funding for the mayor’s expansion of pre-K for three-year-olds.

But this week’s agreement includes more funding for some of the city’s most vulnerable students — though not necessarily as much as advocates hoped.

The exact budget figures have not been made publicly available, and a City Hall spokesman said they would not be until City Council votes to approve them in the coming weeks.

Here are some of the deal’s biggest education highlights, according to advocates and city council members:

$150 million to make schools more accessible to students with disabilities

Most of New York City’s schools are not considered fully accessible: entire neighborhoods lack schools that can accommodate students with physical disabilities. And since the city had already exhausted all of its funding to make schools more accessible for the next fiscal year, advocates feared there would be no progress on building upgrades for at least another year.

But the budget deal includes $150 million over the next three years to improve access for students with disabilities, which will likely allow for major overhauls of at least 20 school buildings and minor enhancements to dozens of others.

“The [education department] is finally getting a grip on what kind of work needs to be done but they were out of money to do it,” said Maggie Moroff, a special education policy expert at Advocates for Children, an organization that pushed for increased funding. “This allows them to do it right away.”

More social workers dedicated to homeless students

The number of homeless students in New York City has swelled in recent years, with roughly one in 10 students living in temporary housing. The deal includes nearly $14 million to hire social workers in schools with high concentrations of students living in temporary housing — $2 million more than Mayor Bill de Blasio included in his executive budget.

City Council is funding the last-minute increase out of its own budget, according to Mark Treyger, chairman of the council’s education committee (advocates were watching this figure closely; de Blasio’s preliminary budget left out the funding entirely).

The funding increase, Treyger said, would be enough to hire roughly 20 additional social workers for homeless students, bringing the total to about 70. Advocates have called for roughly 150 social workers, and Treyger acknowledged it’s only a start.

“The goal is we need to get to over 100,” Treyger said. “Social workers are the most-equipped and best-trained to help advocate for kids.”

Additional counselors in schools that don’t have any

Last month, Treyger grilled education department officials over the fact that 41 schools don’t have a single guidance counselor or social worker.

The budget deal would help close that gap, with $2 million to hire counselors for those schools, though it wasn’t immediately clear how many would be hired. At a recent budget hearing, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza suggested not all schools necessarily needed a social worker or guidance counselor — an idea Treyger rejected.

“The administration did not add a dime,” Treyger said, noting the additional funding came from the council’s budget.

School funding

Poll: Most residents want Michigan to change the way it funds schools

PHOTO: (Photo by Ariel Skelley via Getty Images)
Members of the School Finance Research Collaborative are calling for equitable school funding so all Michigan students get the education they deserve.

Most Michigan residents believe the state’s current method of funding schools is both insufficient and unfair.

Those were the findings of a new statewide poll that was conducted in June by the School Finance Research Collaborative, a prominent group of Michigan educators, policymakers, and business leaders that has called for major changes to the way schools are funded.

The poll of 600 Michigan residents found that 70 percent believe the state’s schools are underfunded, and 63 percent think they are not funded fairly.

“The results of the poll should really be a wake-up call for policymakers on both sides of the aisle, and to anyone seeking elected office,” said Wanda Cook-Robinson, a School Research Collaborative member and superintendent of Oakland Schools. “They need to listen to the Michiganders and use the school finance research collaborative study as a road map for a new, fair schools funding system.”

The poll follows a report the collaborative released in January, which recommended sweeping changes to the way schools in Michigan are funded. Instead of sending schools the same amount per student, the report recommended providing schools with additional funds for students who are learning English, living in poverty or facing other challenges.

The group spent nearly two years and about $900,000 producing the report but it did not get much immediate response from Lansing. The education budget signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this summer included increases to school funding, but made no changes to the funding formula.

Michael Addonizio, a professor of Education Policy Studies at Wayne State University and a member of the collaborative, said the poll offers another reason why lawmakers should pay attention to the issue.

“It’s time for a new school funding system that meets the unique, individual needs of all students, whether they are enrolled in special education, living in poverty, English language learners, and [whether] students attend school in geographically isolated areas of the state,” he said.

Details about the survey including the specific questions asked are below.

Listening Tour 2018

5 bold ideas for how Chicago can send more kids through college

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
Chalkbeat Chicago sat down with educators and OneGoal staff as part of our series of listening tours throughout the city

It takes resilience and a lot of support to launch students on the path to college, let alone get through Year One.

“Students trying alone to make it is not going to work,” said Kate Kaushal, a counselor at Phillips Academy High School in Bronzeville. “It takes a village.”

In a conversation on Tuesday, educators, Chalkbeat reporters and editors, and staff from the nonprofit OneGoal brainstormed ways to marshal that village to guide more students in Chicago’s neighborhood schools toward college and careers. As the sixth stop of Chalkbeat’s summer listening tour, the two-hour discussion took place at the Loop office of OneGoal, which offers one-on-one coaching to help low-income high school students transition to college.

The discussion covered many of the challenges schools face, from keeping students moving forward during their “sophomore slump,” to conquering the complexity of college applications and financial aid forms — and, moving beyond, to keeping students in college once they get there.  In 2016, 66 percent of CPS high school graduates enrolled in two- or four-year colleges. But of district students who had enrolled in college in 2011, only 57 percent graduated by spring 2016.

Tuesday’s group shared ideas that are working — and even came up with other bold ones that could catch on. Here are five ideas that came out of our conversation:

1. Build out a system of post-secondary “help desks” in libraries and public spaces

Sharon Thomas Parrott suggested instituting “help desks” to support high school students in navigating financial aid

Problem: The variations among applications for colleges and trade programs is mind-boggling,  even for adults, said Kaushal of Phillips Academy.: “Each college has a different process, and a different portal, and students get frustrated when applying.”

Solution: Sharon Thomas Parrott, an ex-officio member of One Goal’s Board of Directors who began her career as a CPS teacher, proposed a network of community “help desks” that could help students review options and navigate applications and federal financial aid forms. “How do we support schools and provide counseling opportunities without counselors?” she asked rhetorically. Help desks with services in English and Spanish would also help make the process more accessible to parents and guardians.

2. Financial aid navigators accessible to high school students throughout the city, either at schools or through organizations

Problem: College has become astronomically expensive. It’s great to encourage students to pursue higher education, “but don’t sugarcoat it either,” said Andrew Nelson, a humanities teacher at Multicultural Academy of Scholarship High School in South Lawndale. However, reality can also discourage families.

Solution: Alejandro Espinoza, OneGoal Chicago’s director of secondary partnerships,  suggested that the city or schools can provide financial aid navigators to help families figure out how much schools cost, what financial aid is available, and how loans figure into the picture. “Parents won’t take a risk if they don’t know this information.”

3. Start the post-secondary conversation earlier

Mary Beck, principal of Senn High School, emphasized the importance of Freshman Connection for getting incoming students on track for high school graduation

Problem: Many students don’t enter high school with thoughts about what they’ll do afterward, and may not think about them until junior year, when their options — such as entering into a trade or a college — become limited because they lack required courses and credits.

Solution: Mary Beck, the principal of Senn High School in Edgewater, said that her school has placed much emphasis on Freshman Connection, a program that gets incoming students acquainted with staff and graduation requirements before the school year starts. At Senn, the goal is to get students on track to graduate before they even show up for Day One of high school. “It’s setting yourself up so that you have options,” she said. “They have to be prepared to apply for a four-year college even if they don’t ultimately go.”

4. Focus on individual students once they get to college

Problem: Students who make it to college don’t always stay there. Beyond academics, it can be challenging to deal with a new environment, cost, and even culture. Adults often tell students that once they’re in college ‘you’re going to be an adult, no one is going to hold your hand,’ said Kaushal, “but sometimes someone still needs to hold their hand.”

Solution: Thomas Parrott said that colleges or external programs could provide counselors who sit down with incoming college students and looking at what classes they’ll take in freshman year, as those grades set the foundation for the students’ trajectories in college. Kaushal added that guidance needs to continue in college. While organizations such as OneGoal provide one-on-one coaching for college freshmen, she said that continued coaching will help ensure students ultimately graduate.

5. Students need to see success stories

Problem: Students sense challenges facing their family, neighborhood and city all the time. They need to hear stories of resilience — and see exactly how kids who look like them persevered.

Solution: OneGoal Director of External Affairs Chloe Lahre said that mentors, connected through a robust directory of program alumni, could offer practical advice and encouragement. Nelson of Multicultural Academy suggested more stories in the media about students overcoming setbacks. It would be helpful, he said, “seeing people who have had similar experiences and seeing what their story is like.”

In our listening tours, we’ve gathered parents, community groups, students, and educators to discuss pressing issues in Chicago education. Our seventh event, in partnership with City Bureau, is next Thursday, August 23. It is open to the public.