Thursday, July 12

Public frustrated, some furious, over DOE spending proposal (updated)

At the Contracts for Excellence hearing in Manhattan last night, dozens of parents, teachers, advocates, and students voiced harsh criticisms about the Department of Education's plans to spend this year's record increase in state education funding.

The funds, which are a direct result of a joint lawsuit against the state by two non-profit organizations, will result in over $1 billion in additional money for New York City schools during the coming school year. Of that total, $228 million is required to conform to Governor Spitzer's Contracts for Excellence mandate, meaning the money must be used to accomplish one of five specific goals, including smaller class sizes and more "time on task" -- i.e. longer days or more days in the school year. (For more on the history of this issue, check out our previous posts on the topic.)

Last week Chancellor Klein announced his plan for spending the Contracts for Excellence money, essentially claiming that the City's new Fair Student Funding system would automatically meet the requirements of Contracts for Excellence, and nothing more needed to be done. The plan did, however, specify how much money will be used to address each of Spitzer's allowed spending categories. This week the DOE is conducting hearings throughout the City, gathering public comment on the plan, and at last night's hearing in Manhattan the comments reflected serious disenchantment with the plan.

Geri Palast of Campaign for Fiscal Equity (one of the groups that brought the original lawsuit) stressed the need for specific commitments in the plan. "The City's plan is overly broad and is not specific enough," she said, and she asked the city to post individual schools' plans on the DOE's Contracts for Excellence webpage.

Many speakers criticized the lack of serious public input for the DOE's spending plan. The press release detailing the plan and the schedule for public hearings was published July 5, and the plan must be submitted to the state by July 15, leaving only ten days for public comment of any sort. The short notice, and the fact that the hearings are occurring in July-- when education is not at the forefront of many parents' minds-- drew sharp criticism.

Others bemoaned the lack of a long-term plan to comply with the Contracts for Excellence requirements. Leonie Haimson-- a parent and blogger for NYC Public School Parents-- said the plan is in "flagrant violation of state law" because there is "absolutely no five-year plan to reduce class size, as mandated by the Contracts for Excellence."

But the most common criticism by far was the need for more focus on reducing class sizes. Of the $228 million governed by the Contracts for Excellence requirements, the plan classifies $111 million for class size reduction, hiring an additional 1,300 teachers for the coming year. However, it's unclear how much this will actually reduce class sizes, since we don't know how many of those teachers will have their own classrooms. Additionally, Haimson and many others have noted that even if every teacher were to have their own new classroom, average class size across the city would only fall by between .3 and .8 students. The DOE, for its part, provides only the following clarification: "By investing in class size reduction, the DOE projects first-year class size reduction that exceeds the annual rate of reduction over the last five years." Seth Pearce, a senior at Laguardia and representative of the New York City Student Union, also stressed the need for smaller classes, saying reduced class size is "instrumental to improving teacher quality." His complete comments can be read here. Ben Shanahan, of Hunter College High School, also weighed in-- see his comments at NYC Student Word.

For a more complete discussion of the class size reduction plan's criticisms, read Haimson's post on the topic. Otherwise, check back here for continuing coverage.

7/13 Update: NYC Public School Parents has links to the comments made by several more people Wednesday evening.

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