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21st Century Policies for Today's New York City

Surprise! Teachers unions back pre-K

Daniel DiSalvo | July 16, 2014 

The American Federation of Teachers was the largest donor this past year to Campaign for One New York—also known as UPKNYC. The advocacy group was an outgrowth of Bill de Blasio’s campaign for mayor and sought to persuade Gothamites to support the new mayor’s policy agenda. It spent some $1.7 million on the campaign for pre-K expansion. The two largest contributors to Campaign for One New York were the American federation of Teachers ($350,000) and 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East ($250,000). 

It is no surprise that the teachers unions wanted to expand pre-K in the city. The United Federation of teachers (UFT) knows that 1,000 new pre-K instructors the city plans to hire by September and another 1,000 next year will become union members, which will increase the union’s manpower and money. If those 2,000 instructors pay, on average, $500 a year in union dues, the UFT will collect an extra $1 million every year going forward. So the $350k looks like a small investment that will pay off handsomely.

This is not to say that the teachers unions don’t genuinely believe in the benefits of early childhood education. I’m sure they do. But they also have a significant organizational and financial incentive to do so as well. 


NYC in Three Novels Over 50 Years

Nicole Gelinas I July 8, 2014


‘Friendship,” Emily Gould’s debut novel, tells us a lot about today’s New York City. Just look at how its characters use the subways — rather than let the subways use them.

Amy, one of the book’s two 30-year-old heroines, can’t drive. “Fifteen years had passed” since she last tried. “To be fair,” Gould writes, “Amy had spent 10 of them in New York City” as a blogger, “pretty much the last city in America where relying entirely on public transportation didn’t automatically mean that you were poor…”

Read the full article on the New York Post Online


SCOTUS Dues Ruling Could Help NY Child Care Providers

E.J. McMahon | June 30, 2014

The closest New York State counterparts to the Illinois workers are the child care providers first  unionized under an executive order issued by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007. The providers in question are independent contractors, subsidized by government grants but hired by parents. Some are licensed day-care operators; others are friends or relatives of the low-income working moms whose kids they watch. In recent years, unions across the country have been eying these informal caregiver networks as a new frontier for building membership rolls and political influence.

Under Spitzer’s order, which was subsequently enacted into law by the Legislature in 2010, about 32,000 child care providers in New York City were organized by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Another 15,000 providers in the rest of the state are represented by Local 100B of Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)…

Read more on the Empire Center’s blog NY Torch.


At a recent Manhattan Institute event, a panel was convened to discuss the implications and implementation of the teachers’ contract on the city’s budget and on Mayor de Blasio’s negotiations with the rest of the city’s unions. Panelists included:

Charles Brecher, Research Director, Citizens Budget Commission; Nicole Gelinas, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal; Jenny Sedlis, Executive Director, StudentsFirstNY; Daniel Weisberg, Executive Vice President, The New Teacher Project

ContractWatch: Shell Game with Teacher Back Pay

Daniel DiSalvo | June 16, 2014

Everyone—the news media, the UFT, and even some de Blasio officials—says that under the new contract teachers are receiving “back pay” or “retroactive raises” of 4% for 2009 and 2010 respectively in order to match what other city workers then received.


However, that is not how the de Blasio administration officially describes these salary increases to the Comptroller. For the financial authorities, they are just raises. Technically calling them back pay would put the city in violation of accepted accounting practices.

The semantics of back pay versus raises matters. In fact, it could matter a lot.

If the two 4% increases are defined as raises, then the teacher contract doesn’t really set the pattern for other city workers. On the other hand, if the 4% increases are considered back pay, then the city is paying in the future for work done in the past and effectively borrowing to pay for operating costs, which violates accounting principles.

Teachers’ retroactive pay has left other city unions unhappy. They are being asked to accept only a 10.4% increase in base salary from 2013 to 2018 in order to conform to pattern bargaining. However, the teachers will receive 19.5% over the course of their contract once the two 4% raises are paid. (Those increases are actually scheduled to be paid as four 2% raises beginning in May 2015 and concluding in 2020).

If protective services unions were to press the point and an arbitrator were to decide that the four 2% increases in the teachers’ contract are just raises, then that could pattern bargaining and blow a huge hole in de Blasio’s budget. To avoid this, de Blasio would likely argue that the four 2% raises should be considered back pay, not raises. This semantic shell game is another example of the de Blasio administration’s fuzzy math.


The Future of Teacher Tenure

Charles Sahm | June 11, 2014

Education reformers are split on the implications for the broader movement and, truthfully, it may be too early to tell. Education scholar Andy Rotherham notes on his Eduwonk blog, “today may be recalled as the day when reform seriously shifted to the courts…The lesson many will take away from today’s events is that you’re better off in the courts than the arena.” At Education Week, Rick Hess voices concerns over the precedent Vergara sets, noting traditional conservative opposition to judicial activism.

Perhaps the greatest impact of Vergara will be in the court of public opinion and it will bring more folks over to the reformers side. As charter school proponent and losing Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries noted in the New Yorker recently, education reform too often seems “imposed, done to people rather than in cooperation with people…This is a democracy. A majority of people support these ideas. You have to build coalitions and educate and advocate. This remains the United States. At some time, you have to persuade people.”

Below is a great breakdown on the current standing of teacher tenure from The Wall Street Journal:



More on Judge Treu’s Strong Language

Charles Sahm | June 11, 2014

Here are a few key examples of the “strong language” that I mentioned in my post earlier today:

On teacher tenure, Judge Treu writes that California’s policy of giving the vast majority of teachers tenure after a two-year (really 18-month) probationary period, “unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one)” harms both teachers and students.

On the difficult process to get rid of ineffective teachers once they’ve secured tenure, Judge Treu writes, that the current system is “so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”

On the state’s practice of using seniority to decide what teachers should be let go when lay-offs are necessary, he writes “the State Defendants’/Intervenors’ [read: unions’] position requires them to defend the proposition that the state has a compelling interest in the de facto separation of students from competent teachers, and a like interest in the de facto retention of incompetent ones. The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable.”

Judge Treu recognizes the limits of the judiciary and does not try to “legislate from the bench” by mandating policy changes. (Although he does suggest the state legislature consider following the lead of other states and award tenure only after a three to five year probationary period.) The ruling will surely be appealed to a higher court and it remains to be seen what influence it will have on California state legislators.



"It Shocks The Conscience"

Charles Sahm | June 11, 2014

Yesterday’s decision by California district court judge Rolf M. Treu in the education equity lawsuit Vergara v. California reads like it was written by Michelle Rhee.

The lawsuit, brought by nine California public school students, challenged five state laws that deal with the granting of teacher tenure, the removal of ineffective teachers, and the policy of using “Last In, First Out" when districts make layoffs. The judge declared all five laws in violation of the state constitution due to the fact that, as interpreted in previous cases, the state constitution guarantees "a meaningful, basically equal educational opportunity" be afforded to all students. The judge found that current laws protecting ineffective teachers "impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students."


The ruling is striking for some of the strong language that Judge Treu employs. In the summary ruling he writes, “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The Manhattan Institute and StudentsFirstNY will hold a breakfast forum on Monday, June 16 that will discuss the new New York City teachers’ contract and one of the subjects that will surely be discussed in the wake of Vergara is whether reformers can and/or should look to the courts to remedy what many see as a rollback of some of the accountability reforms that have been put in place by the city and state in recent years.

Time will tell, but the Vergara decision could end up being a legal landmark with broad education policy implications.

Stay tuned for more.


CONTRACTWATCH: UFT Ratifies Contract

Daniel DiSalvo I June 4, 2014


Some 77 percent of teachers and para-professionals that belong to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) voted to ratify a $9 billion contract that will pay them raises and back pay totaling some 19.5 percent of salary until 2020. Active teachers will receive an immediate $1,000 bonus. About 90,000 of the 106,000 members (69,097 in favor of the and 20,427 opposed) cast yes or no ballots by mail. While this seems like strong support for the contract, some 94 percent of union members backed the first contract under Bloomberg in 2002. Much of the teacher skepticism, as was evident at a recent Q &A with UFT President Michael Mulgrew revealed dissatisfaction that the back pay is not scheduled to be paid now.

Beginning teacher pay will rise from $45,530 to $55,411 by 2018. Top-earning teachers’ salaries will climb to $119,565 from $100,049. The changes in teacher pay are not connected to improvements in the classroom.

The vote is an important, if unsurprising, step for the de Blasio administration. The next big steps will be to use the teacher contract to set the pattern for the other unions. The bigger test will be to get all the unions to agree to billions in healthcare savings.

Down the line, the deal may throw the budget out of balance, if it hasn’t already, and draw in the Financial Control Board. At the very least the deal has doubled the projected 2016 budget deficit to $2.2 billion.  Not exactly, a model of fiscal prudence.


A Tale of Neighborhoods

Stephen Eide I June 4, 2014

Since his inauguration, Mayor de Blasio has watched his approval ratings dip and seen Gov. Cuomo reaffirm supremacy over policymaking in New York State and City. But de Blasio’s still riding high in that he still owns the terms of the debate. Everyone continues to talk about inequality and the “tale of two cities,” even when discussing wholly-unrelated issues such as libraries. This is a sign that de Blasio’s 50-point victory over Joe Lhota was no fluke, and that he remains in control.


But only in a political sense, and no one doubts de Blasio’s political skills. Questions persist about de Blasio the manager and policymaker. He had no executive experience before becoming mayor, the pace of his appointments has been strikingly slow and some of his signature initiatives, such as housing, are much longer on vision than detail. (Again, who thinks de Blasio can’t dream big?)

Ultimately, the success of the de Blasio mayoralty should be measured based on whether it delivers substantive improvements to the lives of poor New Yorkers. The Manhattan Institute therefore plans to benchmark conditions in the city’s poorest neighborhoods over the next four years.


My new report Poverty and Progress in New York I: Conditions in New York City’s Poorest Neighborhoods,” lays down the baseline for this benchmarking effort and also shows that New York’s recent renaissance decades did not entirely leave the poorest areas behind.

Here are a few findings worth highlighting:

  • Population trends are healthy in New York’s poorest neighborhoods. Several neighborhoods have seen double-digit population increases during recent decades, often outpacing the growth rate for the city as a whole.
  • In seven of ten neighborhoods surveyed, serious crimes declined by at least 70 percent between 1990 and 2013, with murders down by the same margin in nine.
  • Citywide, the poverty rate has not changed significantly since 1980, although some neighborhoods have seen their rates change by 8-10 points.
  • Poor neighborhoods continue to show high rates of welfare dependence, although the kind of dependence has changed. A smaller share of the population now receives cash assistance than in 1980, but in nine of the ten neighborhoods, at least 40 percent of residents are on Medicaid—and in seven, at least a third of the population receive food stamps.
  • Family structure continues to be unstable in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. The same six community districts (Mott Haven and Hunts Point in the Bronx; East Harlem and Central Harlem in Manhattan; Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn) that had 50 percent, or more, of families headed by a single mother in 1980 continued to do so in 2012.
  • Some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods have made substantial progress in rates of educational attainment. Whereas seven had single-digit rates of adults with a college degree in 1980, only the South Bronx still has not yet reached 10 percent.

It’s difficult to summarize the data neatly, but, in general, I’d say that, with respect to the conditions over which the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations had clear responsibility, such as crime and welfare, poor neighborhoods have made considerable progress. With respect to income, over which city government has only an indirect influence, the results are more mixed.

Incidentally, the Furman Center came to not-dissimilar conclusions in the 2013 installment of its “State of the City’s Housing & Neighborhoods” report, released last week. Though the report generally focused on raising concerns about the growth of income inequality in New York City, the Furman Center did acknowledge that:

While New Yorkers of all income levels lived in safer neighborhoods in 2013 than they did in 2000, the city’s lowest income households (earning $20,000 or less) experienced the largest reductions in crimes per 1,000 residents from 2000 to 2013.)…In terms of the performance levels of students in nearby elementary schools, the share of students scoring at a proficient or higher level on standardized tests in math and reading improved citywide between 2000 and 2012. The improvements were relatively balanced across income categories.

The least that anyone can say is that poor New York’s experience over the last few decades has been more complicated than the simplistic “tale of two cities” trope would imply. De Blasio may repudiate the rhetoric and policies of his predecessors all he likes, but he is not free to repudiate the standards to which they were held.