De Blasio and Farina: Stop Worrying About Testing and Coding. Worry About Student Homelessness.

It’s time for NYC to make child homelessness a priority.

There were more than 100,000 homeless children enrolled in NYC public schools in the 2015-2016 school year. That is a small city’s worth of homeless children. And that number is expected to rise.

As a public school teacher, I know first hand the effects of homelessness on children’s well-being and achievement. Homeless students are much more likely to miss numerous school days, making it hard for them to stay on grade level. When they do make it to school, they are often hungry and exhausted- in need of rest and emotional support, not primed for academic challenges. Homeless students also often face long commutes from their shelters to get to school, and are more likely to be late for school. It goes without saying that homeless children also typically lack the support and stability needed to complete homework.

This high rate of homelessness is both unacceptable and unnecessary. New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the entire world. As the city grows wealthier by the day, there is no reason- beyond skewed priorities– for such a high proportion of child homelessness.

The inequality is staggering. While hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers live in shelters and on the streets, there are empty luxury condos in Manhattan owned by off-shore billionaires, high-rises going up every year, tax credits for developers who build drop-in the bucket numbers of barely affordable apartments and billions of dollars spent on vanity projects like the Hudson Yards path station. On the same block, brownstones sell for three million dollars right next to a bus station that shelters the homeless each night. In my classroom, my homeless students who commute from shelters in the Bronx are expect to perform as well as students who live in multi-million dollar lofts in gentrifying Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the NYC DOE and State Education department spends an exorbitant amount of money on testing, curriculum development and technology every year. Some of these initiatives are beneficial- but nothing should take precedence over meeting the basic needs of every child. Teaching a child to code doesn’t help them find a place to sleep comfortably at night. Spending millions on new instructional standards and resources is all well and good, but if our students are hungry, scared and tired we might as well throw that money out the window. Similarly, there is no point in pouring money into testing and accountability measures when our students don’t have homes. In an era in which we’re obsessed with data and student achievement, it is astounding to me that we are able to virtually ignore the epidemic of homelessness among NYC school children.

Mayor De Blasio did the right thing in bringing breakfast to classroom last year and making school lunch free for all children this fall. Children can’t learn when they are hungry. And they can’t achieve their full potential when they don’t have a home to go to at the end of the day. The needs of children should take precedence over the needs of developers, finance and testing companies. 100,000 homeless children should be declared a state of emergency by the DOE, the Mayor and the Governor, not ignored or treated as an inevitability. If Mayor De Blasio and Governor Cuomo truly want to improve educational outcomes for all children, they must make ending child homelessness a priority in the coming year. If we pass the millionaire tax, close the LLC loophole and get our priorities straight we can  tackle the homelessness crisis in our city.  Every child needs and deserves a home. We have the means. We just need the will to change.

 

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The 5 Letter Word that Scares Chuck Schumer

Democrats are in the midst of releasing their “better deal” economic platform this week. With the federal government enveloped in terrifying corruption and chaos, Democrats are perfectly poised to offer a clear, empowering alternative to the GOP’s current “platform” of greed, complicity and division.

And already, I worry that Democrats are letting this golden opportunity slip away, leaving activists like me pessimistic about our chances of restoring democracy and retaking the House of Representatives in 2018.

Case in point: In his op-ed earlier this week, Senator Charles Schumer managed to write an entire article about how Democrats plan to protect American workers without using the word “union” even once. And he’s not alone. Mainline Democratic leadership across the board seems to harbor a pathological fear of the U word- presumably out of fear of alienating their corporate donors. Nancy Pelosi wrote a similar “union” free article. Which leads me, a unionized public school teacher and nearly full time activist, to conclude that they still do not get it.

Take this paragraph from Schumer’s op-ed:

There used to be a basic bargain in this country that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could own a home, afford a car, put your kids through college and take a modest vacation every year while putting enough away for a comfortable retirement. In the second half of the 20th century, millions of Americans achieved this solid middle-class lifestyle. I should know — I grew up in that America.

But things have changed.

One would think that Senator Schumer knows what largely made that “basic bargain” possible: Unions. Yet the U word is nowhere to be found in this “better deal.”

(To be clear, I understand, as I hope Senator Schumer does too- that the bargain existed for primarily white men and that a better social contract would be first and foremost inclusive )  

Think of all those coal and manufacturing jobs that middle America, Donald Trump, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and just about everyone longs for- the only reason those were good jobs is because of collective bargaining and union power. The reason the abused factory workers of the turn of the century became the stable suburban middle class families of the 40s and 50s? Unions.

I oversimplify a bit, and admit I am not a labor historian.  But it is no coincidence that America was most equal when its’ unions were most powerful and pervasive. If Chuck Schumer and his cohorts really want to offer American workers a “better deal, they should start by restoring the “U” word to prominence, empowering unions and championing the organizing efforts of non-protected workers in the service, contract and domestic work industries.

As Nick Hanauer, Seattle based entrepreneur and living wage supporter, wrote in his brilliant article, “To My Fellow Plutocrats, We Can Cure Trumpism,”:

“There is no earthly reason why an entry-level job at low-wage employers like Walmart or McDonalds could not pay $15 or even $20 per hour with full benefits, the way an old factory job used to. There is nothing “unskilled” about a barista or a home health care worker, and no economic principle that prevents these workers from earning a living wage. The only difference between today’s service workers and yesterday’s manufacturing workers is that most service workers have no union, and thus have no power.”

Both public and private sector unions have been under attack by Democrats and Republicans for the last 40 years with union membership declining across the country. Republican controlled state governments have passed “right to work” laws to make it harder for workers to organize and remain in the middle class. Public school teachers- who remain one of the few remaining strong union forces in this country- have been viciously attacked and undermined by everyone and their grandmother in the last 20 years- from Arne Duncan, to Andrew Cuomo, Mike Bloomberg, George W. Bush, and yes, even Barack Obama.

If Democrats really want to put forth a positive, populist economic message that will truly benefit American workers, they need to do much more than restore common sense anti-trust laws and take on drug companies- or even raise the minimum wage.

To truly protect American workers- and I believe to win in 2018- Democrats must empower ALL workers- whether domestic employees, service workers, the growing corps of renewable energy laborers , contract workers and freelancers-  to negotiate for fair salaries, quality benefits, paid leave policies and job security while challenging the avarice of CEO’s that want to keep profits out of the hands of their employees. The way to do this is to stop ignoring and undermining union power, and reclaim the mantle of labor as a party. Get organized Democrats. The U word is back in style.

Tell Cuomo: Keep DeVos Out of NY State

cuomo devosGovernor Cuomo has called the State Senate and Assembly back into session in order to extend mayoral control for NYC schools for the coming year. Most members of the legislature support mayoral control.

However, Republicans in the State Senate, led by Majority Leader Flanagan, are trying to force through a bill that would extend mayoral control only if NYC accepted a dramatic increase in the number of new charter schools permitted to open in the city. Their legislation would also remove all caps placed on charter school expansion in areas outside the city and introduce tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.

This is right out of the Betsy DeVos playbook and would be devastating for public schools and public school students in the city.

Here’s why:

  • Research demonstrates that unchecked charter school expansion has fueled resegregation in urban school districts. Charter schools also suspend more black students and children with disabilities than their public school counterparts. As a result, the NAACP recently joined a growing chorus of civil rights groups calling for a nationwide moratorium on charter schools.

 

  • Charter schools lack the financial and instructional oversight of district public schools and are consequently more prone to fraud and profit-driven corporate corruption.

 

  • There is growing evidence that many rapidly expanding charter school networks intentionally exclude and fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, charter schools in NYC “lose” an average of 6-11% of their students annually, whereas public schools tend to gain students as children get older. These “lost” students are usually struggling children who wind up in their district public schools after being expelled or counseled out of charters.  

 

  • Although there are some excellent charter schools in NYC (which will be unhindered by keeping the current cap), there is no evidence that charter schools, on the whole, perform better than neighborhood public schools, or that shutting down community schools and replacing them with privately-run charters is the best way to help our underserved communities.  

 

  • Most important, increasing the number of charter schools permitted to open in NYC means increasing the number of public schools that will be starved of resources via a loss of per-pupil funding and will ultimately be shut down.

Concerned?

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Call your state senator: https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator

*Note: If your state senator is a member of the IDC (Independent Democratic Conference), he/ she voted yes on Flanagan’s bill to increase the charter cap.

2. Call your assembly member: http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/search/

3. Call Governor Cuomo: 518-474-8390

Script: Hi, my name is… and I’m a constituent from… (zip). [Insert personal details: I am a public school parent, teacher, graduate etc.] I am calling because I believe we should renew mayoral control for NYC schools without lifting the charter school cap. We need well-funded public schools with qualified teachers not more chain charter schools. [Feel free to include more reasons from above]

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/senate-leader-bill-ties-mayoral-control-charter-schools-article-1.2239324

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/02/28/separating-fact-from-fiction-in-21-claims-about-charter-schools/?utm_term=.c31fdb9517c7

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/08/when-public-goes-private-as-trump-wants-what-happens/

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/black-lives-matter-naacp-moratorium-charter-schools

 

How Trump’s Pro-Billionaire Budget cuts to education, housing, healthcare, the EPA, the NIH and the CDC would hurt ME.

After Trump’s budget came out a few weeks ago, I thought about my daily routine and how the cuts he is proposing would impact my day to day life. Here’s a day in my life thinking about the impacts of budget cuts and the AHCA.

At 7 am, as I get dressed, I make a mental note to start work on my loan forgiveness program. Something I’ve been meaning to do for months. I’ve been teaching in a public elementary school in Brooklyn for five years now. Like many of my colleagues, I’m in debt and counting on federal loan forgiveness for public servants to pay off my loans — -for now.

I ride my bike to work. I can breathe easily. Trees line the streets. For now.I imagine what it would feel like to bike to school along the East River without regulations that keep our air and water clean, without a well funded EPA. My school, in Williamsburg Brooklyn, is right near a superfund site.

I arrive in my classroom and start setting up for the day. My school relies on Title One funding for low income schools from the federal government and serves a diverse population of students and families. Although Title One funds are safe in the new budget, we also host a federally funded free after school program. Hundreds of our kids do their homework and eat their dinners as part of this program. For now.

Many of my students receive occupational and physical therapy provided through Medicaid — -for now. These are services my students desperately need. With cuts to Medicaid, school districts across the country may have to cut funding for these services for children.

My students include immigrants from the Dominican republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Many of these families are already being pushed out of our gentrified neighborhood because of sky-high rents. With cuts to public and affordable housing, many more of them will likely become homeless. I have students who already live in shelters and rely on food stamps- another program that Trump wants to cut. I know from experience that it is not possible to teach a hungry child who hasn’t slept the night before.

In the middle of my first class, a student starts crying because she doesn’t feel well. I feel her forehead and she has a fever. I send her to the nurse and quickly wash my hands before continuing with the lesson. I can feel safe that myself and my students won’t be exposed to dangerous contagious diseases thanks to the CDC and the NIH. For now. What happens when they lose funding?

After lunch, I get an email from my doctor telling me that my bloodwork is normal. I am immunosuppressed because I had a liver transplant when I was 19. It means I get sick easily and often, and it’s why I have to quickly wash my hands after interacting with a sick child. Because I have a pre-existing condition, insurance companies don’t want to cover my care. But they have to because of the ACA. For now.

I get home and I make myself dinner. I can trust that the food I purchased is safe to eat and the water I’m drinking is clean. For now. Without EPA regulations on industry dumping in waterways, will clean water become a luxury item?

Trump’s budget has REAL implications for ALL of us. Every day.

 

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The GOP Hates Children

The AHCA will be devastating for children, families and the elderly in so many ways. It will make it harder for people like me, who have pre-existing conditions to get healthcare. It will kick millions- that’s millions of Americans off their insurance, including children.

But that’s not all.

The AHCA also cuts over 800 billion in funding for Medicaid- that’s more than a 25% cut. It would also impose a “per-capita cap” on funding for certain groups of people, such as children and the elderly — a dramatic change that would result in the reduction of a myriad of services- including special education.

On average, school districts get more than 4 million dollars from Medicaid for special education services annually. Without this funding- all the services that help students with disabilities- from physical therapy, to occupational therapy to counseling could disappear for millions of children. At my Title 1 school, almost 20% of students  receive Special Ed services.  They NEED these services in order to learn and become independent, successful adults. This is not something extra. (Unlike Mar a-Lago visits- THOSE are extra)

So not only are Republicans destroying healthcare for 24 million Americans just so they can claim a legislative “win,” but also, they’re drastically shrinking services for the most vulnerable children in our schools.

And the GOP wants to massively slash taxes for corporations while cutting services for MY students?

You’ve got to be kidding me. 2018 started yesterday.

Education advocates, teachers, administrators and parents should ALL be up in arms about this bill. I don’t care who you voted for. This bill hurts ALL of our children.

Rise up.

 

 

 

When Cuomo Pretends He Cares

17353378_10100395925024913_884817314304257965_nLast night I attended Central Synagogues “action” to raise the age of criminal accountability in NY State, featuring several inspiring speakers, and the night’s big draw, Governor Cuomo.  Of course, no questions (and no boos) were allowed during the presentation even though Cuomo shamelessly used the pulpit to veer off topic and champion shutting down “sub-par” public schools.

He also weirdly equated quality of education with how many devices are used in a given classroom and talked about the poor, failing public schools in which first graders don’t have access to “any electronics.” (Definitely an issue adequate funding from HIS OFFICE might address. Also, I’d prefer my first graders use less electronics in schools, not more.)

Since I didn’t get to ask my question, here it is, ready for Cuomo when he decides to actually face his constituents and host a real town hall.

Thank you for appearing in this forum and providing the space to discuss the urgency of raising the age in NY State. Unfortunately, if we really want to address the tragedy of teens and young adults traumatized by the criminal justice system we must face the fact of the school to prison pipeline.

Yet, your record and your proposed executive budget will perpetuate the school to prison pipeline by  failing to allocate the recommended amount of foundation aid due to NYS state schools, thereby continuing to underfund schools in low-income communities, depriving those schools of the resources they need to support all of their students academically and emotionally.  Your budget also aims to do away with the foundation aid formula all together, meaning NYS public schools will never get the 3 billion dollars they are owed to meet the NYS constitutional requirement for equity in education as determined by the 2006 ruling. As a teacher, I know all to well that overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies and support and a high needs population is a nearly impossible challenge even for the most qualified and experience educators. Funding matters. 

Your proposed budget also lifts the current cap on charter schools in NYC, despite evidence that many charters intentionally weed out students with disabilities and behavioral challenges through suspensions, expulsions and “counseling” at a much higher rate than their public school counterparts. Your proposal also ignores evidence that charter schools are more segregated than public schools and more likely to promote “no-excuses” disciplinary approaches that disproportionately result in expulsions and suspensions of students of color and students with disabilities. For these reasons, both the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have called for a “moratorium” on charter schools. 

Raising the age is essential and I ask that you support Senator Montgomery’s comprehensive plan to do so. But if you want to truly help NYC teenagers stay out of our already over crowded jails, you MUST fully fund public schools and keep the existing cap and funding rates for charter schools in NYC.  Will you commit to doing this? 

I called and left my question as a voicemail today. I encourage you to leave your own message. Tell him to be a real progressive and stand up for public schools. Meanwhile, I’ll keep that question in my pocket for his next appearance.

 

Send this letter to Cuomo

Courtesy of Indivisible Nation BK ( indivisiblenationbk.org,) I wanted to share this open letter to Andrew Cuomo about his executive budget and public education. Spoiler alert: Budget is not great. Read on for more info and please share! The budget will be finalized in the next few weeks. If you want to take a stand for public schools, you need to get this message to Albany. 

(If you’d like to print and send your own, you can find it here)

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The Trump administration poses a grave threat to our communities, our democracy, the environment, and our public education system. Now, more than ever, we need you to take a stand for public schools in New York State. You cannot claim to be a progressive leader if you continue to underfund our public schools while promoting the unchecked expansion of the charter school industry at the expense of district schools, low-income communities, and students with special needs.

I am writing to you today to demand that you revise the 2017-2018 executive budget in order to meet the needs of public schools statewide.

First, I ask that you increase the amount of Foundation Aid allocated to New York State public schools by $2 billion over the next two years. As you know, In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals found that the state was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by underfunding low-income schools. Known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) ruling, the decision required the state to commit $5.5 billion in Foundation Aid to public schools across the state by 2011. However, the full distribution of this Foundation Aid has been delayed again and again and NYS schools are still owed $4.3 billion.  Meanwhile, your budget proposal includes an increase of only $428 million in Foundation Aid for schools and eliminates the use of the Foundation Aid formula altogether, while freezing Foundation Aid to school districts at  2017-2018’s meager level. This is unacceptable. Given the likelihood of the federal DOE eliminating Title 1 funding, it is critically important that you take your responsibility seriously and ensure that New York’s public schools will receive the aid they are owed. You must revise the budget and commit to fully funding public schools in New York state.

Second, I ask that you remove the special education waiver proposal from the executive budget. This proposal would allow school districts, approved private schools, and boards of cooperative educational services to seek waivers that would exempt them from providing important protections for students with disabilities. Specifically, this waiver would allow districts and schools to ignore provisions regarding IEPs, functional behavior assessments, behavior intervention plans, class sizes, and finally, provisions requiring schools to notify families before changes in placement. This waiver would dramatically erode students’ rights and harm children with disabilities, particularly those from low-income families who lack the resources to navigate IEPs and state law. It must be removed.

Finally, I ask that you not increase the number of new charter schools that can open in New York City and maintain the current “cap” which allows up to 30 new charter schools to open in NYC. The NAACP recently joined a growing chorus of civil rights groups calling for a nationwide moratorium on charter schools in light of research demonstrating that 1) unchecked charter school expansion has fueled resegregation in urban school districts and 2) charter schools suspend more black students and children with disabilities than their public school counterparts. Meanwhile, charter schools lack the financial and instructional oversight of district public schools and are consequently more prone to fraud and profit-driven corporate corruption. Some prominent growing charter chains, like Success Academy, have even been accused of abusive instructional and employment practices.

Additionally, there is growing evidence that many rapidly expanding charter school networks intentionally exclude and fail to meet the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, charter schools in NYC “lose” an average of 6%-11% of their students annually, whereas public schools tend to gain students as children get older. These “lost” students are usually struggling high-need children who wind up in their district public schools after being expelled or counseled out of charters.  In New York State, some charter schools have been accused of intentionally weeding out lower-performing students and then leaving seats empty to maintain the illusion of high achievement.

Moreover, although there are certainly some excellent charter schools in NYC (which will be unhindered by keeping the current cap), there is no evidence that charter schools, on the whole, perform better than neighborhood public schools, or that shutting down community schools and replacing them with privately-run charters is the best way to help our underserved communities.  Most important, increasing the number of charter schools permitted to open in NYC means increasing the number of public schools that will be starved of resources and ultimately shut down.

This is not what we want for our children. We demand that you fully fund our public schools, remove the special education waiver and keep the current reasonable limits on charter school expansion in New York City.

 

Sincerely,

Indivisible Nation BK and Yours Truly (of PedagogyoftheReformed fame)