DeVostation by Charters

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the confirmation of Betsy DeVos would not be quite as bad as some might fear. That is still true, but we need to be careful about not going too far in the opposite extreme and assuming there’s nothing to worry about. The main point of that email was that most of DeVos’s key issues are actually state controlled (and if anything, she’s eager to push more control to the states). The downside of that is we are vulnerable to State Legislators who support the DeVos agenda, such as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.  And one area where Flanagan and the State Senate are very much in step is with charter schools.

The fact is, we don’t give a lot of thought to charter schools here at SWR. We don’t lose students to them, or have to deal with students coming back from them unprepared, and they don’t have any direct impact on our budget. At least they don’t appear to. But if we fail to see that the threat posed by charter schools is a threat to public schools overall – including us – then we’re missing the big picture. This cartoon definitely captures the idea…


The Governor’s budget allocates more money for charter schools, including providing building aid, and allows charter schools to operate with virtually no accountability or transparency, siphoning much needed funding away from actual public schools.

The Assembly budget incorporates a number of proposals to address these issues, while the Senate bill is basically a gift to charters. Here’s NYSUT’s summary of the Assembly and Senate language on charters.

The Assembly rejects the Executive Budget proposal to increase the charter school tuition formula and further rejects the proposal to provide building aid to the charter industry.

The Assembly puts forth a number of proposals that seek to impose some level of transparency, fairness and accountability upon the charter school industry. Specifically these new initiatives would: authorize the auditing of educational management organizations; take into account the finances of charter schools prior to providing financial assistance for the lease or purchase of space; ensure the uniform enrollment of students with disabilities and those living in temporary housing and hold charters accountable if they do not enroll comparable populations of these students as neighboring schools; streamline suspension and discipline of charter school students; institute consistency in the charter schools approval process; disclose compensation paid to each person serving as a charter executive; disclose individuals, entities or corporations who provide gifts over $1,000; ensure charters conform to and are reporting finances according to accepted accounting principles; require charters to provide to the New York City chancellor or superintendent of the respective district, the names of students who withdraw from the charter school; require charters to provide the New York City chancellor or superintendent with a copy of its wait list to ensure they serve the same populations as neighboring school districts; provide that charters placed on probationary status for any reason must notify the parents and applicants of the school, and the state education department must identify on its website, the charter’s remedial action plan; and provide charter school parents a process by which a complaint can be brought against the charter school and made available on the school’s website.

The Assembly includes language to make the charter industry subject to provisions governing general public works projects and prevailing wage requirements.

The Assembly does not include the Executive Budget’s modified charter school transition aid proposal.

The Assembly provides $1.25 million in support for the conversion of charter schools in New York City ($1 million) and Buffalo ($250,000).

The Senate accepts the Executive Budget proposal to unfreeze the charter school tuition formula, (estimated cost of $120 million), provides statewide building aid (estimated cost of $103 million) to the charter industry and eliminates the statewide cap on charter schools.

The Senate provides new reimbursement payments to charter schools for nurses, security guards, custodians, food service workers and “other necessary support personnel” employed by the charter school in the amount of ten percent of the charter school basic tuition paid, if such staff is not otherwise provided by the school district (estimated cost of $124 million).

The Senate proposal provides the following to the charter industry in New York City: total facility rental costs, including but not limited to, lease payments, maintenance, costs of capital improvements, costs of occupancy, security, insurance and real property taxes or an increase of 30 percent, from 20 percent, of the charter school’s basic tuition for the current school year; and the co-location site or alternative space must be sufficient to accommodate all of the charter’s school grades at a given school level, as defined by the school, to be educated at a single location.

The Senate eliminates the authority of the New York City Department of Education to oversee pre-K contracts with charter schools.

The Senate accepts the Executive Budget’s modified charter school transition aid proposal.

The Senate proposal does not include any transparency or accountability measures for the charter industry.

We cannot let this stand. Please take action today (the budget is due at the end of this week!)



One-House Bills

Here’s a summary of the Assembly and Senate one-house bills and how they compare to the Governor’s Budget and what NYSUT was advocating for. As a reminder, the final budget is due by midnight this Friday, March 31st.

I’ve top-lined all the items listed in the previous post.

School Aid
The Governor’s budget called for an increase of $1Billion in education spending. We told legislators that that number should be $2.1B

  • The Assembly budget includes an increase of $1.8B
  • The Senate budget calls for $1.3B

The Governor’s budget eliminated the Foundation Aid formula. We asked for it to be maintained and for back aid to be repaid.

  • The Assembly budget includes $1.4B in Foundation Aid and a four-year phase-in of total Foundation Aid
  • The Senate budget includes $0.9B in Foundation Aid

Teacher Centers
The Governor’s budget eliminated funding for teacher centers. We advocated for reinstating their funding levels back to the 2008-09 level of $40 million.

  • The Assembly restores Teacher Center funding to last year’s level of $14.3M
  • The Senate budget does not address funding for Teacher Centers

As expected, neither house addressed APPR in their budget.

Tax Cap
We advocated for amending the tax cap to a “true 2,” meaning that it would be 2% of the rate of inflation – whichever is GREATER (it is currently based on whichever is LESS). We also advocated for exemptions based on increased enrollment and other factors.

  • The Assembly proposal requires PILOTs and BOCES capital to be exempt from the tax cap, as well as establishing a zero percent minimum to prevent negative tax caps.
  • The Senate proposal would make the tax cap permanent and extend its current provisions to include New York City.

Special Education Waivers
The Governor’s budget includes language that would allow school districts, BOCES, special ed providers, and private schools to petition for flexibility in complying with certain special education requirements. We are lobbying against this.

  • The Assembly bill rejects the waiver
  • The Senate bill accepts the waiver

State Revenue
The Governor’s budget includes extension of the “millionaire’s tax.” NYSUT advocated to make it more progressive, which could raise an additional $5.6B in revenue for the state.

  • The Assembly budget includes a progressive income tax surcharge
  • The Senate proposal does not address a personal income tax surcharge

Democratic Assemblymen introduced a bill earlier this month that would compensate for the Carried Interest Loophole, which could raise state revenue by $3.5B. Neither house addressed the loophole in their budgets.

Freedom of Information Law
Language in the Governor’s budget would allow public disclosure (via a FOIL request) of the terms of new collective bargaining agreements BEFORE THEY ARE VOTED on by employee organization.

  • The Assembly rejected this proposal
  • The Senate accepted these provisions, but noted they are open to modifications as part of the budget negotiations process

Other Issues
As noted last time, there are quite a few other important issues in the budget. I’ve tried to hit on some of the most critical items, but there are a few that I did not mention last time, which definitely deserve notice.

Vouchers and Tax Credits: The Assembly does not include voucher or tax credit proposals, but the Senate proposes the “Education Affordability Act.” This would provide tax credits made to local educational organizations and not-for profits, would create a tax credit for parents who home school, and provide a tax credit for educators who purchase supplies. It would cost the state $675M over three years.

ELL: The Assembly plan provides $15M for ELL programs. The Senate plan provides no extra funding, but provides flexibility in hiring dual certified teachers to comply with Part 154.

Students in Temporary Housing: The Assembly includes school district funding of $10M for students in temporary housing. The Senate plan includes no additional funding, but creates a process to allow students in such housing to continue to attend school prior to displacement.

IRMAA – The Governor’s budget sought a change in civil service law to freeze Medicare Part B premium support at $104.90 for all NYSHIP retirees with Medicare primary insurance, as well as eliminate the reimbursement of the Income Related Monthly Adjustment (IRMAA), effectively resulting in a decrease in benefits. NYSUT lobbied against these proposals, both of which were rejected by both houses.

Charter Schools – The charter school issues in the budget are pretty significant and probably should have been mentioned in the prior post. As such, we’ll break that part out into a separate post.

State Budget Update

For those who need a refresher on the budget process – in the beginning of each calendar year, the Governor proposes a budget for the following fiscal year (April – March). The budget includes spending allocations as well as legislative items reflecting the Governor’s agenda (e.g. APPR). After reviewing the Governor’s proposal, meeting in committees and getting feedback from constituents, the Senate and Assembly publish their own versions (called one-house budgets).  The two houses then work to reconcile their separate plans, with the goal of ratifying the final budget ahead of the first day of the new fiscal year (April 1st).

Where Things Stand Right Now

School Aid
The Governor’s budget calls for an increase of $1Billion in education spending. While this seems huge, the Board of Regents estimates that just retaining existing services will cost $1.7B. NYUST is asking for an increase of $2.1B to include targeted funding for ELL, CTE, struggling schools, professional development, expanding pre-k, and enrollment growth.

Last year the Governor started with a figure of $1.1B, NYSUT lobbied for $2.1B, and the final budget increase was $1.4B. We have reassurance from all our legislators that the actual number this year will be higher than the Governor’s allocation, but there really is no telling where it will wind up.

A major issue with the budget is that the Governor wants to eliminate the Foundation Aid formula which is used to calculate school aid. This would not only make future budgeting more uncertain, but would also erase $4.3B in prior aid owed to schools. This affects some districts a lot more than others. (e.g. SWR is owed $3 million, while Riverhead is owed $29 million, click here to look up other districts). Although NYSUT is amenable to modifying the formula, we advocated strongly for it not to be eliminated.

We did get reassurance from some of the legislators that they will push to keep the formula the same, even promising to try to repay back aid. We are cautiously optimistic that we will prevail in getting the legislature to keep the formula in use.

Teacher Centers
For the past few years, the Governor’s budget has eliminated funding for teacher centers, and this year’s does so again. We advocated for not only putting teacher centers back into the budget but to reinstate their funding levels back to the 2008-09 level of $40 million. For reference, the 16-17 budget was $14.6 million.

We have won this battle in the past, and we’re confident that Teacher Centers will be saved, and we’re hopeful that funding will be increased (although it’s very unlikely to be at the level we requested).

There are no changes to APPR in this year’s budget. We did remind legislators about the folly of rating teachers based on test scores, but they are not likely to make any moves at all without direction from the Regents. The Regents has in the past noted that it is bound by the legislature in what it can recommend. It doesn’t appear that anything will be changing any time soon.

Tax Cap
We advocated for amending the tax cap to a “true 2,” meaning that it would be 2% of the rate of inflation – whichever is GREATER (it is currently based on whichever is LESS). We also advocated for exemptions based on increased enrollment and other factors.

Simply put, this ain’t changing. The tax cap is extremely popular with voters. And while there is support for modification or exemptions among some legislators, there is just no momentum to make it happen

Special Education Waivers
The budget includes language that would allow school districts, BOCES, special ed providers, and private schools to petition for flexibility in complying with certain special education requirements. We are lobbying against this.

I don’t have a sense of how likely this is to go through, but we brought the issue up and can hope that we got our point across.

State Revenue
The Governor’s budget includes extension of the “millionaire’s tax,” which is due to sunset this year. NYSUT advocated that this be not only be kept in the budget, but modified to make it more progressive, which could raise an additional $5.6B in revenue for the state.

The Assembly members we met with seemed open to a more progressive tax, while the Senate members indicated that they were inclined to maintain the tax but would not even consider a more progressive version. However a report last week indicated that the Senate is moving toward not even extending it, potentially reducing the state’s projected revenue.

We’re cautiously optimistic that the millionaire’s tax will be extended (more because of the Governor’s influence than our lobbying), but see almost no chance that a more progressive version will be implemented.

Democratic Assemblymen introduced a bill earlier this month that would compensate for the Carried Interest Loophole. It is estimated that this change would raise state revenue by $3.5B. NYSUT supports this bill and advocated for its passage.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that carried interest is something that’s been opposed by people as far apart as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, this bill is unlikely to pass.

Freedom of Information Law
Language in the Governor’s budget would allow public disclosure (via a FOIL request) of the terms of new collective bargaining agreements BEFORE THEY ARE VOTED on by employee organization. This could have very negative effects on our ability to negotiate fair contracts, as it would allow the general public to weigh in after terms have been agreed to, but not yet ratified.

This language was in last year’s bill and we were successful in getting it pulled. We believe we will prevail again.

Other Issues
The above are just some of the critical issues that are in the Governor’s budget. Other issues that NYSUT advocated for included multiple concerns related to higher ed, healthcare, libraries, and more.  We work on these issues not only because our membership includes nurses, professors, and service related professionals, but also because these are issues that impact our students in multiple ways.

The Assembly has just released their one house bill (you can see the full text here), and the Senate should be releasing theirs shortly. Once they’ve been analyzed and summarized, we’ll pass that along.

Not Good, but Not the End of the World

Today, as expected, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the new Secretary of Education  The Senate voted 50-50, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote.

It is understandable that people may be very disheartened by this news, but there are are at least three reasons to view this as – well, not a good thing, but certainly not as bad as many might fear.

  1. Yes, Ms. DeVos is unqualified for the position. And yes, many of the philosophies she espouses run counter to the the ideals of public education. But we need to remember that as inept as she may be, the reality is that the role of Department of Education is very limited. She does not have the ability to privatize public schools, mandate vouchers, or force creationism into the curriculum. Education is still a locally controlled entity, and, if anything, one of the main reasons that GOP Senators have given for supporting her is that she will help return more control back to the states. Beyond that, there is reason to believe that while Republicans backed her out of party loyalty, she doesn’t really have much more credibility with them than she does with Democrats and this lack of credibility will “clip her wings,” inhibiting her from doing too much damage.

    This is not to say she can’t do any damage (This NPR story lists some areas of concern, including a few related to higher ed and the fear that with less Federal oversight “some states will be less vigilant than others in identifying and correcting historic educational inequities of race and class.”), but her confirmation will not bring about the end of pubic education.

  2. It would be crazy for anyone who cares about public education to celebrate today’s result, but there is a school of thought that suggests it actually would have been worse if a third Republican had turned against the party and voted her down.

    Keep in mind, had DeVos not been confirmed, Trump was not going to be chastened by the defeat and nominate an actual educator in her place. He would have simply found someone else of a similar ideological mindset to DeVos, who, by comparison, would undoubtedly seem like a relatively reasonable choice, thus diffusing some of the controversy and protest at a time we need to remain vigilant.

    As mentioned before, there has never been this much attention paid to a nominee for Secretary of Education. Because she is so polarizing, people who never gave thought to the topic are now speaking up against what she stands for, which can only serve to help the cause of public education. As one policy wonk put it in the Atlantic, “It will only help them because they can constantly point to her as the symbol of everything that’s wrong. … People who care about public education have a real opportunity here to say, ‘Okay, we’ve all been talking about this a lot. Let’s really think about what our public-education system needs to sustain itself robustly for the next century, so people like Betsy DeVos don’t want to keep tearing it down.”

  3. Again, the outcry against Ms. DeVos was absolutely unprecedented – not just for an Education Secretary, but for any cabinet nominee. Educators, parents, writers, activists, politicians, celebrities, and civil rights groups, generated a stunning level of resistance that literally overwhelmed many Senate offices. However… the fact that it did not succeed could easily lead to the conclusion that political action is dead – that we have reached the point where politicians are 100% indifferent to the wishes of their constituents.

    But that is not the right conclusion to draw. The DeVos debacle is a special case (and this piece in Slate explains just why there really was no point in waiting for one more Republican to buck the party).  Over time we’ve highlighted example after example of how political action works and think it’s worthwhile to point out two very recent examples you may have missed.

    • Just a few weeks ago, the House GOP pulled back on their plan to gut ethics rules after they were deluged by calls and letters from angry voters.
    • Last week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz was forced to withdraw a bill that would have sold off 3.3 million acres of Federal land “after a fierce backlash from hunters, sportsmen and women, and conservationists on both the left and the right”

The point is that, while there are significant exceptions, political action does work.

So, please. Don’t be disheartened and don’t give up. We need to keep working and doing what we do best, and we will prevail.

Hats for Alexa

Alexa Boucher is a 9th grader at the High School who was recently diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma – a type of soft tissue cancer.

Alexa’s prognosis is good, and she will be receiving treatment for the next year.

Along with other efforts, the “Fight Like A Girl Team” is selling winter hats as a fundraiser to help with medical expenses, and SWRTA is assisting in the sale of these hats.

Not only will your purchase support the Boucher family and show Alexa how much the SWR community cares, you’ll be getting a warm winter hat that’s well made and very comfy.

If you’d like one (or more), please send $15 per hat (cash, or a check made out to “cash”) to Rob Verbeck at Wading River School. There is no firm deadline, but it will make it easier if we can get all orders in by Friday, February 3rd.

hat alexa

Not Just DeVos

Before we get into the update on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a couple of local items of interest.

Lessons in Falling
As reported in the Riverhead News Review, a forthcoming novel from SWR alumna Diana Gallagher was named by Barnes and Noble as one of the Top 10 Most-Anticipated Indie Young Adult books of 2017.

“Lessons in Falling,” scheduled for release on February 7th, is a story about “two best friends grappling with the aftermath of the one friend’s suicide attempt.” Ms. Gallagher is quoted as saying that she “remembers hearing reports of suicides or attempted suicides during all four of her high school years,” and that she hopes this book “will help break the stigma surrounding the subject.”

It is immeasurably heartbreaking that that this topic is still so relevant. But it is good to see efforts being made to deal with it, and resources (especially YA Fiction) that can help our students make sense of it are always welcome.

Tesla Museum
CBS reported that construction is about to begin on the Tesla Museum in Shoreham. This is great news for our community and for the memory of a nearly forgotten genius.  It’s expected that the welcome center will open by the end of this year and the full museum will open within three years.

A few local people are quoted in the article, including Jane Alcorn and Marc Alessi, but we’d like to highlight three SWRTA Retirees who have given lots of time and energy to the museum, including running their after school education programs: Deb Lohman, Carol Davis-Wiebelt, and Mary Schwartz. Thank you for your tireless efforts in keeping our students engaged and interested in science. (Special thanks to Carol in particular for teaching me that “Tesla > Edison”).

More DeVos?
If we’re gong to broach this topic again, let’s start with two positives.

The first is that while previous Education Secretary appointments have gotten some press attention, it has never been like this. Stories about John King, Arne Duncan, and their predecessors, were mostly limited to education journals or columns. But the DeVos train wreck has gone mainstream.

Trevor Noah did a segment on the Daily Show.  The New Yorker offered up the Betsy DeVos standardized Test. Cartoons and memes are all over the internet (see below). Even Newsday has come out against her.

Sadly, this probably won’t stop her from being confirmed. But it does help our cause in giving the general public a much clearer picture of how public education is under attack in this country, and may well help us grow support as it becomes ever more necessary.

The second encouraging element of this story is that the vote to confirm Ms. DeVos has been pushed back a week to January 31st. For their part, the GOP leadership is not giving any indication that this means that their support has wavered at all. In fact, rather than seeing her dismal performance as an indication of her lack of qualification for the job, Sen. Alexander blamed the Democrats for asking “gotcha” questions.

Still, while the odds of stopping DeVos are long, the delay allows a little more time to make the effort. If you haven’t gotten to read up on why DeVos would be a disaster for public education, please see my previous post or read this article from the Washington Post.  Then…

Call our Senators:

Contact the Senators on the Health, Education, and Labor Committee

If you don’t know what to say, this link has some sample scripts.