October 13, 2013
Last week we learned that Lovely Warren has chosen not to debate Green Party Mayoral candidate Alex White. For voters seeking meaningful discussion of the issues and an exchange of ideas, her decision was highly disappointing. Given that education is the cornerstone of her campaign (and the topic of our blog), I felt especially shortchanged.
As such, I invited White to present his position on charter schools and school funding. I welcome a response from Ms. Warren. In a previous post, I worried that Warren’s advocacy of the charter school movement would undermine the RCSD support staff’s public union, BENTE (Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees). On Lovely Warren, charter schools, and jobs
In his response, White also discusses potential impacts on the teaching profession. My comments are in italics.
WHITE: “Every year it seems the RCSD has fewer teachers, larger classes, and worse results. These conditions wear out teachers who struggle with disruptive students and inadequate assistance. Rather than getting better, the district seems every year to have to reduce staff and cut programs. While other districts would keep the programs and teachers they need, our district is forced to keep only those it can afford.
The center piece of Lovely Warren’s plan to solve this problem is creating a new system of schools called charters. These schools will siphon money away from the public schools, and attract many of the better students. Yet, in national studies charter schools get similar results as public schools. While 29% of charter schools do better. 31% do worse. Furthermore, they also pay their teachers less.
Of course one of the ways to improve schools is better teachers. As charters pay roughly 25% less, it is unlikely these will attract better teachers and frequently have trouble keeping any they do get. Further, funneling money out of the public schools will make it harder to educate the students in that system.
One of the key drawbacks of charter school is they are non-union (and in some cases profit-driven), inevitably leading to lessened compensation and working conditions. Invariably, better working conditions translate into better learning outcomes for students. Rochester, Monroe County and New York State have benefited from a robust and effective public union, one that is a strong advocate against crippling budget cuts. For all the RTA-bashing, consider the striking success of many (unionized, of course) suburban schools.
Now while education is very important to the success of the city, this is the role of the school board. The mayor can do little about this unless there is mayoral control. Even with mayoral control, such changes would provide great disruption in the lives of our students and waste precious resources on reorganization. The real solution is to stop playing politics with education and just provide the funding needed. For years the city payments to the district has remained fixed despite rising costs. Further, the city is constantly finding ways to charge the district for services which should be free. So with less money why would be expect our schools to improve?
My plan is to fund the education we need. Presently we are required to provide so much money for education. Nothing says we could not provide more. I would encourage the district to present programs which are good, and then the city will provide additional funds for these. This way we could have programs like a full day preschool option for 4 year olds, day care in schools, teen court, arts and music for all students, and much more. These programs will keep more children in school and help more succeed.
These issues are exacerbated when we consider Rochester has the seventh highest childhood poverty rate in the nation. “Wraparound services”—prenatal counseling for expectant mothers, programs for preschoolers, longer schools days, after-school and summer activities, and other support services–are urgently need in low-income neighborhoods.
Providing additional money can be done without raising taxes on everyone by ending the tax breaks we have given to some of our wealthiest landlords. Meanwhile, my opponent continues to vote for more and more of these. It is time to really ask ourselves, why do we need subsidize landlords? For example, Voters Block apartments built for 20.3 million but paid only $1161.17 in taxes, or education for our children. To me this is simple, and my plan is to get the schools what they need.”
If education is your priority, consider closely White’s analysis and proposals. And, at the same time, reflect on Warren’s reticence to engage her opposition in public forums.