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Pro-Tip: Don’t Confuse Mayor With Emperor LaToya Cantrell weighs-in on OneApp while trying to take money from public schools



UPDATE: 5/16/19A new fiscal note attached to Senate Bill 110 estimates that an increase in the City of New Orleans’ tax collection fee from 2% to 4% would cost the Orleans Parish School Board “an additional $8,600,000 beginning 2019-20 and increasing annually to $9,600,000 by 2023-24.”

On Friday, the Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s newly-established Office of Youth and Families issued a statement on OneApp, the system that families use to enroll their children in New Orleans public schools. The move was puzzling for a number of reasons.

The statement from the Mayor’s Office of Youth & Families on OneApp.

For one thing, Mayor Cantrell has no authority whatsoever over the school system, which is governed by the seven elected members of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), an independent public body separate from the City of New Orleans.

Given that fact, the Mayor’s decision to officially weigh-in on OPSB’s enrollment process could understandably be viewed as both inappropriate and unhelpful, particularly from the standpoint of OPSB. (Can you imagine how the Mayor would react if, say, the Jefferson Parish Council issued a public appraisal of the Sewerage & Water Board?) Indeed, OPSB leaders spent much of last week trying to dissuade the Mayor’s office from issuing the statement. Sources with knowledge of those discussions say that the Mayor’s team solicited feedback on various drafts of their press release, but refused requests to nix it altogether.

What did the Cantrell Administration have to say that was so profoundly important that it was necessary to press on over the objections of OPSB? Not a whole hell of a lot. The 380-word press release issued on Friday is heavy on platitudes, devoid of real substance, and dripping with condescension.

Emily Wolff speaks at the official unveiling of one of the Office of Youth & Families’ “major” initiatives: a new meditation room in City Hall (?).

Consider, for example, this quote attributed to Emily Wolff, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Youth and Families, which serves as the centerpiece of the statement:

“We need to double-down on working to create more high-quality seats for all of our city’s children. I urge the OPSB, policy leaders and educators to work to adapt best practices to more schools and better communicate with families about the diverse array of school choices available to them.”

Create more high-quality school options? Employ best practices? Communicate with families? My god, what revolutionary ideas!

Apparently, the Mayor and her staff believe the city’s education policymakers, school leaders, and teachers have been aimlessly scratching around in the dirt for the past fifteen years. Perhaps she hadn’t heard that the post-Katrina New Orleans school system improved faster than any other school district in the country. Maybe Mayor Cantrell also missed the release of a new study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford, which found that New Orleans schools are outperforming the state on academic growth.

Graphic from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford.

In spite of this progress, she would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the local education community who doesn’t recognize that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to improving schools. In just the past few months, OPSB Supt. Henderson Lewis announced that four low-performing schools would be closing at the end of the school year. It’s hard to comprehend how the Mayor could look at that and draw the conclusion that the district is resting on its laurels.

If the Cantrell Administration is really serious about “working to ensure the system works better,” it can start by staying out of the schools district’s affairs. There are plenty of issues within the Mayor’s purview that need to be addressed, such as the recent spike in juvenile violent crime, the dearth of after-school programming for New Orleans youth, or the fact that public schools often have to close due to problems arising from the city’s crumbling infrastructure.

Tackling these challenges would be a vastly more helpful than admonishing – and by extension, insulting – the education professionals who are working to improve our city’s schools every day.

Oh, one more thing…

Do you want to know what’s even more insulting? While Mayor Cantrell is insisting the district “double-down” to expand high-quality schools, she’s surreptitiously trying to seize a bigger chunk of OPSB’s tax revenues.

Under current state law, the City of New Orleans is responsible for collecting property and sales taxes in the parish. The city then gives the Orleans Parish School Board its share of the money minus a 2% fee, which is intended to cover the costs incurred by the city to collect the taxes. However, Mayor Cantrell is aiming to increase that fee and has enlisted her dear friend, State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, to get the law changed.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (left) shares a laugh with Mayor Cantrell (right), former Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Councilperson Helena Moreno.

Senate Bill 110, which was filed by Peterson in March and is currently awaiting a final vote in the Louisiana House, would revise the law to allow the City of New Orleans to raise its collection fee from 2% to 4%. An extra 2% might not sound like much, but consider that OPSB’s gross tax revenues in F.Y. 2018 were $169.3 million. If OPSB had been charged a 4% collection fee, $6.8 million in school funds would have been siphoned off into the city’s general fund. In fact, if S.B. 110 becomes law, it’s estimated that schools could end up losing $75 for every student they serve.

That isn’t pocket change and it’s not hard to imagine that school leaders, parents, and other community members might take issue with the fee hike. That may explain why the Cantrell Administration hasn’t exactly advertised the fact they’re gunning for a bigger slice of the tax pie. While the Mayor has been candid about the city’s need to raise revenue, and has offered several possible options toward that end, their proposal to increase the tax collection fee has been left unmentioned. Moreover, sources say that the Mayor’s office didn’t even give OPSB a courtesy heads-up about their plan to pursue a fee hike in the legislature. Instead, district officials only found out about the bill last week, after it had already cleared the Senate and was working its way through the House.

As Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry pointed out in an op-ed hilariously entitled, “Mayor Cantrell, apparently serious, boasts of her transparency,” the Mayor “gives the public information on a need-to-know basis, and generally governs as if we never do.” It seems she’s using the same approach in her dealings with the Orleans Parish School Board. Even though the Cantrell Administration insists its “committed to working with OPSB,” when the Mayor interferes in the district’s affairs and tries to seize millions in OPSB funds, it looks a lot more like she’s working against it.

Maybe it’s time for folks in the #CityOfYes to send a message to the Mayor: When it comes to our public schools, she should #JustSayNo.

Read Senate Bill 110:

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Wave Of #RedForEd Candidates Crashes In The Voting Booth Very Few Teachers Running For State Office In WV, OK, KY & AZ Won On Election Night



Update 11/15/2018: When this post was first published, it appeared that Kathy Hoffman, the Democratic candidate for Arizona’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, had been narrowly defeated by her opponent, Frank Riggs. However, mail-in ballots shifted the tally in her favor in the week following the election and she was declared the winner on Monday, November 12th.

Scores of teachers running for office in four states which were roiled by teacher walkouts earlier this spring were unable to translate the energy and enthusiasm behind those strikes into electoral victories on Tuesday night.

Over the past six months, the dominant narrative in the media has been that the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona signaled a shift in the political landscape of these traditionally conservative, GOP-controlled states. And public education advocates, particularly the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), promised to capitalize on public support for the #RedForEd strikes by electing a wave of educators to state office.

However, an analysis of election returns reveals the predicted wave turned out to be more of a ripple. Of the 103 teachers identified by Education Week as candidates for legislative office in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, only thirteen ended up winning their elections.

Here’s a breakdown of the results in each of the four states…

West Virginia: 7 Losses / 3 Wins

This year’s outbreak of strikes started in West Virginia back in February after the state affiliates of AFT and NEA called on teachers to walkout to demand higher pay and lower health care costs. The ensuing strike shuttered school districts across the state for nearly two weeks until West Virginia lawmakers agreed to fund a 4% across-the-board pay raise and pledged to freeze health insurance premiums.

Although the strike was widely characterized as a big victory for labor, the educators running for office in West Virginia were unable to sustain that momentum into November. Only three of the ten teacher candidates won their elections on Tuesday and one of them was an incumbent lawmaker.

Oklahoma: 60 Losses / 6 Wins

After a decade of stagnant wages and steep cuts in K-12 funding, teachers in Oklahoma brought the state’s public education system to a halt for nine days in April as they swarmed the state capitol to demand a long-overdue pay raise and increased revenue for schools. While state legislators eventually agreed to a $6000 pay boost for teachers and an additional $1250 for support staff, they refused to raise taxes for schools.

However, most of the concessions made by lawmakers were passed before the strike even began, leading some to question whether the walkout really accomplished anything. As Gregg Garn, dean of the college of education at the University of Oklahoma, told the New York Times, “In the long run, if candidates that support education get elected, that’s what will determine who won or lost.”

Unfortunately for teachers, by that measure they lost. Of the sixty-six teachers who ran for legislative office in Oklahoma, only six were elected on Tuesday night. Moreover, any hope that the teachers running for office might boost the number of Democratic seats in the legislature was dashed as four of the six educators elected are Republicans.

Kentucky: 17 Losses / 3 Wins

Although the strikes that rattled Kentucky were less widespread than those in West Virginia and Oklahoma, teachers were still able to compel the GOP-controlled legislature to not only pass a record funding increase for schools, but to override a veto of their budget plan by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.

Teachers flooded the Kentucky State Capitol to demand an increase in funding for schools.

However, as in West Virginia and Oklahoma, support for the teachers strike did not translate into votes for teachers running for state office. Only three of the twenty teacher candidates pulled off a win on Tuesday night – and two of the three were Republicans.

Arizona: 6 Losses / 1 Win

Teachers closed schools across Arizona for five days in a strike over their salaries, which were among some of the lowest in the country. Although they initially demanded a 20% raise from lawmakers, teachers eventually agreed to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s offer of a 19% pay increase spread out over three years.

Ducey easily won reelection on Tuesday with nearly 60% of vote, but it was a very different story for those teachers running for the state legislature: only one of the seven candidates managed to win.

Traditional public education advocates also suffered a loss in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Democratic candidate Kathy Hoffman, a speech therapist from outside Phoenix who was backed by the Arizona Education Association and Arizona Federation of Teachers, was narrowly defeated by her Republican counterpart, Frank Riggs. (See the update at the top of this post)

Screenshot from the website of the Arizona Secretary of State.

The one bright spot in an otherwise dismal election night for Arizona teachers was the defeat of Proposition 305, a ballot measure that would have vastly expanded the state’s education savings account (a.k.a., voucher) program. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal by a margin of 2-to-1.

Screenshot from the website of the Arizona Secretary of State.

Other Notable Races: Colorado & California

Finally, let’s turn to some notable races in other states, beginning with Colorado, where a series of walkouts closed schools across ten districts over a two-week period, but never became as widespread as in Arizona. The disruptions eventually ended when lawmakers passed a budget that allocated an additional $225 million for the state’s pension system and $150 million for public schools.

Nevertheless, public education advocates suffered some big losses on Election Night. The two teachers running for the Colorado General Assembly both went down in defeat and Amendment 73, a ballot initiative that would have raised $1.6 billion for public schools, was rejected by voters.

Meanwhile, the race for California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, which became a proxy war between charter school supporters and the Golden State’s powerful teachers unions, appears to have tipped in favor of reformers. As of noon today, Marshall Tuck, who has the backing by pro-charter school groups, had a narrow 76,000-vote lead over Tony Thurmond, with over 97% of the ballots counted.

Pro-reform candidate Marshall Tuck (right) has a narrow lead over Tony Thurmond in the race for California State Superintendent of Instruction.

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PSA: It’s Millage Time Three School Taxes Are Up For Renewal On October 14th



Voters in New Orleans will be heading to the polls next month for the first round of several high-profile citywide races. While the contests for mayor and various city council seats have drawn plenty of attention, three important school board millages are also on the ballot (literally at the very bottom, so don’t miss them).

The millage proposal language on an Orleans Parish sample ballot from the Louisiana Secretary of State.

The three proposals simply renew existing property taxes for another decade and will provide our city’s public schools with approximately $38 million annually. Funding from these millages will benefit both charter and traditional schools, whether they’re under the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board or the Recovery School District. If they are not renewed, schools will receive $850 less per student each year, resulting in cuts that will negatively impact our kids.

Public schools in New Orleans have made tremendous gains over the past 12 years and the revenue generated by these taxes will help ensure that progress continues.

That’s why New Orleanians should vote YES on all three school board millage proposals when they head to the polls on October 14th.

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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