Friday, December 18, 2009

New York is broke

And teachers won't accept it

The New York State United Teachers union, the state School Boards Association, the Council of School Superintendents and the School Administrators Association claim that the governor is acting illegally and unconstitutionally in holding back funds the Legislature allocated.

"This is a terrible day in New York's history. For ... this coalition to stand back and watch the governor take the money that was allocated by the state Legislature for schools, for programs, for children and pull it back is really a terrible thing for us to have witnessed," said Alan Lubin, NYSUT's executive vice president.

Paterson announced Sunday that he is holding back a total of $750 million in state aid to schools, local governments and other agencies because the state doesn't have enough money to pay all its bills.

The school-aid reduction totals $146 million, a cut of about 10 percent. The state is withholding $436 million in reimbursements to districts for money they didn't receive because of the state's school tax-relief program (STAR) that gives homeowners exemptions. The $436 million is a 19 percent cut.

The lawsuit contends that the governor is violating the "separation of powers" doctrine in the state Constitution and the constitutional guarantee of a "sound, basic education" for students. The Legislature approved the school funding, and lawmakers refused early this month to make mid-year education cuts to reduce the state's budget deficit, something Paterson had proposed.

Paterson described the lawsuit as a "desperate attempt by special interests to put their needs above the needs of all the people in the state of New York." Other funding that has been delayed includes Aid to Municipalities and payments to human-service programs and insurance carriers.

"Today's group of plaintiffs have added their names to the list of those who have stuck their heads in the sand and don't want to realize that the state is in as poor financial condition as it is," he told reporters Wednesday afternoon.


Hawaii is broke

And teachers won't accept it

Negotiations meant to restore school on furlough Fridays ended abruptly today. This puts into limbo whether any furlough days will be turned back into school days, this as the semester is about to end and parents wonder what's next. What seemed like progress one day quickly turned around the next -- with negotiations broken off after just about an hour Wednesday morning. "The state side went into a caucus, and we were excused,” said Wil Okabe from HSTA.

The governor's senior policy adviser, Linda Smith, said in a statement, “"HSTA has failed to seize this opportunity to solve the furlough Friday issue, “ and continued saying, "at this point, the ability to resolve the furlough situation rests squarely on the shoulders of the HSTA leadership.

“Fifty million dollars cannot restore 27 furlough days. There must be an agreement to compromise, and so from this state administration there is no compromise whatsoever,” said Dwight Takeno of HSTA.

"It's sort of like everybody's blaming everybody, but I don't know whose fault it is, and I know the parents are upset because the children are losing out,” said Geri Sakai, a retired teacher and grandmother.

One major issue is whether teachers would have to give up planning time to create more school days. The administration said the union said they'd have to find planning time elsewhere by restricting teachers from after school volunteering on events like prom or clubs, and even proposing teachers not supervise at playground time. "They have other units in the security, we have vice principals and principals would be able to supervise those activities,” said Okabe.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education says it will keep talks going with the union with dates planned for next week. Parents and kids head to the last day of the semester on Thursday, not knowing what will happen when they come back next year. The union says the $50 million the governor had put on the table would cover furlough days from January through May. They say it would cost about $125 million to cover the full 27 days between January and all of the following school year.


British faith school admissions in doubt after ruling

The power of faith schools to select pupils along religious lines has been thrown into doubt following a controversial Supreme Court ruling. All Jewish schools in England are already being forced to rewrite admissions rules after the court upheld an earlier judgment that a school in north London racially discriminated against a boy. He was rejected from JFS – formerly the Jews’ Free School, in Brent – because his mother was not born Jewish.

It is thought the ruling will force most of the 38 state and 60 private Jewish schools to tear up their entry policies as admissions were not based solely on the child’s faith. The court said this amounted to racial discrimination.

But lawyers acting for Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, warned that the judgment “potentially impacts on other schools that give preference to members of particular faiths” because religion was “closely related” to ethnic origin. In some areas, Christian schools may be “largely or exclusively white”, the Government said in a submission to an earlier court hearing. “If membership of a religion in that area is regarded as ‘closely related’ to one ethnic group rather than another, it may be that admissions arrangements will fall within the ambit of the… decision,” the document said.

Mr Balls insisted that action could be taken to allow England’s 7,000 Christian, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish schools to continue selecting along religious lines. He said: "We are going to need to look carefully at the implications of this, and all faith organisations will as well. We must make sure that the role of faith schools is properly protected in our state education system. Any further steps which have to be taken should only be taken once we have studied the judgment."

The school went to the Supreme Court after three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled in June that the admissions rules were unfair. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court failed to overturn the decision. Lord Rodger – one of nine Justices who heard the case – said the decision meant “that there can in future be no Jewish faith schools which give preference to children because they are Jewish according to Jewish religious law and belief.”

“Jewish schools will be forced to apply a concocted test for deciding who is to be admitted [that] has no basis whatsoever in 3,500 years of Jewish law and teaching,” he said. “The… decision leads to such extraordinary results, and produces such manifest discrimination against Jewish schools in comparison with other faith schools, that one can’t help feeling that something has gone wrong.”

After the hearing, the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was “extremely disappointed by this decision”. It said it would lobby for a law change to allow Jewish schools to apply admissions rules based on the faith of children’s parents, which was a “fundamental right for our community”.

But the move was welcomed by groups opposed to faith schools. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chairman of Accord, which lobbies for a major overhaul of faith schools entry requirements, said: "We hope this ruling will serve as a wake-up call to faith schools by showing that religious admissions rules must conform to the law of the land, though we will continue urging for all faith schools to stop discriminatory policies entirely. Taxpayer funded faith schools should serve not just themselves but also the community around them.”

A boy - named only as M – was rejected because his mother was not born a Jew. She converted to the faith but this was not recognised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi. It is a basic principle that a child is not recognised by the OCR and other bodies as Jewish unless his or her mother is Jewish. JFS argued that its admissions policy giving preference to Jewish children when the school was oversubscribed was lawful because it was based on religious and not racial criteria.


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