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New York's Education Policy in Historic Disarray


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Gov. Cuomo in May, 2015 (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)


The past several months have been one of the most tumultuous periods in New York State's educational history, culminating several years of false starts and disarray in education policy. It's not without precedent, though, and history has valuable lessons for New York today.

Disillusionment and disavowal of recent educational practices
In December, President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, replacing the 15-year old No Child Left Behind Act and sweeping away its emphasis on standardized tests and punitive approach to failing schools. The new law returns power to the states and dilutes the federal government's power to impose educational standards. That will loosen the hold of federal requirements on New York's educational policy.

Also in December, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced and endorsed the report of his "Common Core Task Force," which had been charged with evaluating the rollout of Common Core educational standards, which the federal government had supported. The task force recommended adopting new, locally-driven New York State standards and, as the governor noted, "greatly reducing testing and testing anxiety for our students. The Common Core was supposed to ensure all of our children had the education they needed to be college and career-ready – but it actually caused confusion and anxiety. That ends now."

At the same time, the Board of Regents approved a four-year moratorium on using student scores on state standardized tests as part of the teacher evaluation system, something teachers had protested (local tests will still be used, though). The Regents' suspension of the policy is in line with another recommendation of the governor's Common Core task force. The governor had also endorsed use of student test scores in teacher evaluation, a position he has also now abandoned.

The Regents adopted the Common Core some years ago and required its use in the schools without providing the necessary implementation materials or training for teachers, and mandated exams on material that had not been fully covered in the classroom. Teachers protested that the process was too rushed and opposed using the test scores in their own job evaluations. Thousands of parents joined an "opt out" movement by refusing to let their children take the exams. The embattled state commissioner of education, John King,  who oversaw the rushed rollout, left for a post in Washington, D.C. His successor, MaryEllen Elia, has promised a more thoughtful and responsive approach.

New York's per-pupil spending is among the highest in the nation but there are constant reports and press stories that our graduates are not adequately prepared for the workforce or college.

In the meantime, over the past several years New York has established a second network of publically-funded schools called charter schools, paralleling and often competing with its traditional public schools, with mixed results.

After years of disarray, we are (or should be) at a turning point. It is time for a fresh look at education policy in New York.  

Gov. Cuomo, in his State of the State address on Jan. 13, proposed changes, but relatively limited ones. Referring to criticism in his common core task force's report of "common core curriculum implementation mistakes and testing regimen," he said that "we urge the state education department to do it right this time." He supports increased school aid, expansion of charter schools, and more support for "failing" high-needs schools, including through the community schools program.

Those are significant, but they are modest; mostly more funding and a do-over of the common core rollout, well short of new departures.

Historic turning points in New York educational policy
This could be a time of opportunity for major changes to strengthen education in New York. But that would require bold, imaginative leadership.

Over the years, history suggests, New York periodically worries about, analyzes, and occasionally takes dramatic initiatives to strengthen its educational system or move off in substantially new directions.

A few examples:

*New York commits to public education. In 1812, after earlier plans to stimulate the establishment of public schools (or "common schools" as they were called then) had failed, the legislature passed the Common School Act of 1812. It created a state superintendent of public schools, outlined a process for creation and operation of local school districts, provided that the voters in each district would elect trustees to operate the schools, established a system of local revenue raised by towns and counties matched by state aid to support the schools.

The act established three precedents: public schools are a function of the state; they are to be locally administered with state oversight; and funding is a joint state-local responsibility. Article XI of the current state constitution reflects the state commitment established back in 1812: "The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools, wherein all the children of the state may be educated."

*A governor initiates consolidation and streamlining of state educational policy. New York entered the 20th century with responsibility for educational policy scattered between the state Department of Public Instruction (successor to the Superintendent of Public Schools established in 1812) and the Board of Regents, established years earlier mainly to oversee higher education. Governor Theodore Roosevelt (1899-1901), a Republican, appointed a study commission which recommended consolidation of educational oversight in a new State Education Department under the Regents. "The plan proposed is simple, effective and wholly free from political or partisan considerations," Roosevelt said, optimistically, in a message to the legislature in 1900.

However, partisan bickering and procrastination stalled action until 1904 when, during the tenure of Roosevelt’s successor, Republican Governor Benjamin B. Odell, Republicans in the legislative majority drew up a bill to implement the recommendation.

But Democrats denounced the bill, in part because Republicans had proposed it. Democratic Assembly Minority Leader George Palmer called it "the most vicious...partisan legislation offered before this body in the last decade." The bill passed by a strictly party vote, except for one Democratic assemblymember who broke ranks to vote for it. But it launched New York onto a new educational path.

*A Commissioner of Education charts a new course for education. New York's first Commissioner of Education, Andrew S. Draper (1904-1913), took charge of educational policy. "The public school system has come to be the main hope of our nation," he wrote in his book, American Education, in 1909. "In this American system of schools the predominant characteristics of our future American citizenship are being, and must continue to be, developed." Schools should be expected "to give every child not only the means of informing himself and of expressing himself, but also a definite trade or vocation through which he may earn a living."

Like most effective commissioners since then, he recommended policy actions to the Regents, worked for their approval, and then vigorously implemented them, rather than waiting for the Regents to tell him what to do.

Draper raised standards, adjusted the curriculum to ensure students received instruction that would make them job-ready and also effective citizens, clarified and strengthened the roles of local principals and superintendents, and pushed for school consolidation. He supported stronger teacher training and established a statewide teacher retirement system. Draper's initiatives strengthened and elevated  education.

*A governor dramatically increases state aid for education. State aid to schools was meager in the early 20th century. Governor Alfred E. Smith (1919-1921, 1923-1929), a Democrat, championed public education and pushed for more school funding. When the Republican-controlled legislature balked, Smith appointed a Commission on School Finance and Administration headed by a prominent civic leader and businessman, Michael Friedsam, president of  B. Altman & Company department store in New York City, which recommended a substantial increase in state funding in 1926.

The Friedsam report resulted in a good deal of public support for substantially increased aid to education. But the fiscally tight-fisted legislature refused to act on the report. Smith made education aid a priority in his successful 1926 re-election campaign, denouncing his political opponents' "cheap political tricks" and "underhanded propaganda." The 1927 legislature raised funding to $82,500,000, a significant increase. But in a political swipe at the governor, legislative leaders announced that this was $2 million less than Smith's request, an indication, they insisted, of the legislature's fiscal frugality.

*The Regents revamp education policy. By the early 1930s, educators were complaining that curricular requirements were outdated, employers asserted that public education was not adequately preparing students for jobs in business and industry, and many taxpayers thought that education had become too costly.

The Regents responded by launching a searching analysis, The Regents Inquiry into the Character and Cost of Public Education, in 1935-1938. When the legislature showed reluctance to fund the study, the Regents secured support for it from the Rockefeller Foundation. The study was headed by highly respected Regent Owen D. Young, who was also chief executive officer of General Electric. It was carried out by recognized experts in education and public policy. The inquiry issued a summary report and ten supplemental reports on specific topics.

Youths leaving high school "are not adequately educated...not prepared to play a helpful part in the life of this state," the report said. The school curriculum "has not been designed to fit them for the new and changing work opportunities which they must face in modern economic life." The report recommended more technical and vocational training to impart "immediately marketable skills" and "character education," training in civics and citizenship, and many other curricular changes.

The Education Department should relax its regulatory oversight over the schools, allow greater local school board autonomy, and concentrate on identifying and disseminating modern educational practices to the schools, it said.

The report also recommended stronger teacher training programs, higher salaries and expanded tenure protection to attract more and better teachers.

The report was a wellspring for substantial changes in education policy, practices, and curriculum over the next decade.

This could be another historic turning point for education in New York State
The past few years of education policy disarray, and the historical examples outlined above and others that might be cited, suggest five insights for shaping New York's future educational plans.

One, leadership is critical, and it can come from the Governor, Regents, Commissioner of Education, or key legislators.

Two, for many years New York's educational system was regarded as among the best in the nation. Regents exams and degrees were something approaching a gold standard in education. Those were years before substantial federal involvement in education, before externally-created standards such as common core, and before a continual barrage of proposed educational reforms from outside think tanks such as the Gates Foundation. New York leaders acted on New York reports on the state's needs and opportunities. This might argue for returning to a system of more reliance on New York's own educational experts and less on outsiders.

Three, a carefully-compiled, visionary, thoughtful analytical report, describing current conditions, setting forth a vision, and outlining a preferred course of action, can inform and streamline the process of reaching a consensus and taking action.

Four, sometimes a bold, innovative, mostly unprecedented new approach may be needed, e.g., a new way of preparing and evaluating teachers, more robust and imaginative integration of educational technology and social media in education, more sharing of resources between schools (for instance, courses taught over the web), different forms of evaluation, or a new way of funding public education.

Five, whatever is proposed and enacted will require years to be implemented, take root, and have a measurable impact.

***
Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne lives in Guilderland, New York. He is the author of The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press. 

Cuomo’s Preparatory Commission Should Prioritize Fixing ConCon Process


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photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo 


In his 2016 State of the State Address, Governor Andrew Cuomo promised to “invest $1 million to create an expert, non-partisan commission to develop a blueprint for a [constitutional] convention.” New Yorkers will vote on Nov. 7, 2017 on whether to call a state constitutional convention and the commission would educate the public on what a “yes” vote might entail.

Traditionally, such commissions have taken the constitutional convention process itself as a given and focused on the substantive changes to state government a convention might propose; for example, today’s hot-button issue of legislative ethics. But that agenda is too limited. The commission should also consider reforms to update the convention process.

In the past, a potent argument against calling for a convention has been that a convention would merely replicate the Legislature’s corruption. For example, some major New York good government groups opposed calling a convention in 1997, the last time the question was on the ballot, by arguing legislators elected as convention delegates would dominate a convention (approximately 5% of the delegates elected to New York’s last convention in 1967 were sitting legislators). Legislators elected as delegates would also unjustly receive two salaries: one for serving as a legislator; another for serving as a convention delegate.

Clearly, fixing such procedural problems is critical to winning popular support for a convention.

Governor Cuomo has taken a good first step in addressing such arguments by announcing that the commission will be “authorized to recommend fixes to the current convention delegate selection process, which experts agree is flawed.”

But that is not ambitious enough.

The Legislature currently controls too much of the constitutional convention process. In passing enabling legislation, it has every incentive to exacerbate rather than fix procedural problems so as to make a “yes” vote as unappealing as possible to the electorate. The Legislature has this incentive because New York’s Constitution includes a convention process designed to serve as an effective check on the Legislature’s power. That—and not because a convention would be no different than itself—is why the Legislature is an intractable enemy of conventions.

Other states have used the constitutional convention process to fix the constitutional convention process itself, and that should be a major goal of New York’s next convention. For example, concerns about legislators serving in a convention could be easily addressed if legislators were banned, as is done in Missouri and Michigan, from running as convention delegates.

Such a ban shouldn’t be controversial. Plural office holding is universally banned in American state constitutions because it violates the checks and balances principle. Elected officials, for example, cannot simultaneously serve in the legislative and executive branches. Some states ban public officials from simultaneously holding two public offices even when not violating the checks and balances principle. The more universal principle involved is that it is hard for officials simultaneously holding two separate public offices to fulfill their fiduciary duties of care and loyalty to the public.

November 2017But the plural office holding problem is merely one of many procedural issues that a constitutional convention could fix. Instead of New York’s past practice of making procedural concerns an objection to calling a convention, they should be one of its chief attractions because a convention is the most realistic opportunity to fix them.

Consider what is at stake. A constitutional convention is the only democratic mechanism New Yorkers have to introduce constitutional amendments that aren’t in the institutional self-interest of the Legislature. That’s far too important a democratic function—a function that implements the people’s most fundamental right, the right to alter their constitution—to allow easily fixable problems to serve as an excuse for preserving the status quo.

Fixing the problems would require a genuine concern for future generations of New Yorkers—something the public and our leaders often profess but rarely do. The question is not merely what the convention New Yorkers would call in 2017 could do to create tangible benefits for our generation, but how that convention could improve future conventions a generation or more hence, when the politicians of today will have left office.

It turns out that democratic theorists think very highly of designing democratic institutions when those doing the designing cannot know whether the rules they design will benefit themselves at the expense of others. For example, you don’t want politicians to design presidential rules of succession after a president has died and they know which specific politicians will benefit from a given succession rule. Under such a “veil of ignorance,” as democratic theorists label it, delegates can act with the greatest degree of civic virtue.

Paradoxically, then, the set of procedural problems convention opponents use to disparage conventions should actually be one of the best reasons to call one.

Fixing the procedural problems should be a major priority of the governor’s commission not merely because it wants to submit its recommendations to the Legislature, but because it ultimately wants to submit them to the convention, which should be spurred on, not hindered, by the Legislature’s obstreperousness. Coming up with the right policies for New York—not merely what is politically feasible given expected Legislature opposition—should be the commission’s goal.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In a previous column for Gotham Gazette, Snider called for Gov. Cuomo to create a preparatory commission: Preparing for New York's Next Constitutional Convention Referendum, June 4, 2015.

DOE Language Access Expansion Builds Bridges to City Families


choi DOE

Steven Choi, the author 


For years, advocates and community based organizations have urged the New York City Department of Education to increase translation and interpretation services to public school parents and guardians with limited English proficiency. Last week, I was honored to join schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, a true champion for the immigrant community to announce a series of initiatives aimed at easing language access for parents in schools.

Immigrant families face tremendous obstacles – speaking to their child's teacher or principal should not be one of them. With nearly half of public school students – almost half a million families – speaking a language other than English at home, it is essential that these families have the ability to participate in their children's school lives. That's why the New York Immigration Coalition and our Education Collaborative of member organizations representing Asian, Arab, Caribbean, African, Latino, and other immigrant families, launched our "Build the Bridge" campaign that advocated for increased translation and interpretation for immigrant parents.

And we are grateful that the DOE has stepped up and heard our calls. The city's language access expansion efforts are a significant step that will help notably reduce language gaps in our schools. The expansion includes the creation of nine new full-time positions in the Borough Field Support Centers and Affinity Groups that will determine the specific needs of each school, and build the necessary supports so that parents receive quality translation and interpretation services.

The expansion also includes new direct access to over-the-phone interpreters available after 5 p.m. In the past, schools had to contact the Translation and Interpretation Unit, which then connected the call – a step that has been eliminated. This will help reduce wait time for an interpreter, and allow teachers and staff to call non-English speaking families after business hours. Interpreters are available in 200 languages. In addition, starting this month, members of the Citywide and Community Education Councils will also receive additional language support. We want our elected parent leaders to be representative of our diverse school system and want to make sure they are able to communicate among themselves and with others no matter the language they speak.

Having the ability to communicate with parents in a language they understand and in a timely fashion is key to the DOE's work. We will keep up our efforts to ensure that immigrant students and parents are provided with culturally competent services to further strengthen this bridge to immigrant families that the DOE, with help and support from advocates, has built. We celebrate this groundbreaking accomplishment and thank Chancellor Fariña and the DOE for their continued efforts to improve services for immigrant families all across our great city.

***
by Steven Choi is Executive Director of New York Immigration Coalition. On Twitter @stevechoinyic & @thenyic.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Move Martin Luther King Day to November


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The Obama family visits Dr. King's memorial (White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)


In 1982, President Reagan signed the law that established a federal holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Because Dr. King's birthday was in January, the authors of the bill thought it made sense for his holiday to be in January as well.

Almost 25 years later, it's time to ask if they got this right. Because schools are closed on Martin Luther King Day, most children likely see his holiday as a break from the classroom rather than an opportunity to learn about Dr. King. Those adults who have a day of paid vacation are likewise not likely to spend it honoring the civil rights leader. What seemed like a fitting tribute to this great American when it was first proposed now seems sorely inadequate.

Without Dr. King, there's no telling when (or if) Congress would have passed either the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. Because of these historic laws, the widespread discrimination that was being practiced throughout much of the country was prohibited, and the voting rights of African-Americans and others were finally protected. It is hard to overstate the effect of Dr. King's efforts. In Mississippi-- just to take one example-- voter turnout among African-Americans increased from six percent in 1964 to almost 60 percent by the end of that decade. Throughout the nation, the work of Dr. King and countless others within the civil rights movement helped advance legal and political equality for millions.

Dr. King's heroism helped accomplish a great deal, but his work is far from finished. Since the 1960s, voter turnout is down significantly, especially in non-presidential election years. In the 1966 midterm elections, 48.7 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots. In 2014, just 35.9 percent did. While many creative ideas for increasing voter turnout are offered every election season, making it easier for people to get to the polls would be an important step in the right direction.

By moving Martin Luther King Day to election day, we would finally make election day a federal holiday and instantly give millions of Americans more time to vote. The cost of making this switch would be modest, since it would simply involve moving an existing federal holiday, not creating a new one.

It's hard to imagine that Dr. King or his family would be against such a plan. More people would be able to participate in the democratic process, and every person stepping into the voting booth on election day would be honoring his legacy. King would get the holiday he deserves.

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by John Martin, Republican District Leader, 81st Assembly District.

More Cities Should Do What States and Federal Government Aren't on Minimum Wage


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Mayor de Blasio at his recent minimum wage announcement (photo: Michael Appleton)


Early this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a guaranteed $15 minimum wage for all city government employees by the end of 2018. This is a big win for over 50,000 workers across the city struggling to provide for their families.

Unlike in Seattle and Los Angeles, where city officials are empowered to raise the minimum wage for the entire workforce in their cities, Mayor de Blasio is unable to unilaterally raise wages for all New York City workers. That power lies with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature. The governor's efforts to lift the minimum wage to $15 are being hampered by a Republican-controlled state Senate.

De Blasio's decision to raise wages for city employees is a crucial independent step towards a more equitable city - and should be seen as an inspiration for cities around the nation. It also reflects the power and momentum of a groundbreaking worker-led countrywide movement demanding higher wages.

Even as state and federal administrations drag their feet on the inevitable question of a decent minimum wage for working families in the United States, de Blasio's gutsy move shows cities can and should take matters into their own hands.

The mayor's minimum wage raise closely follows his announcement last month giving six weeks paid parental leave, and up to 12 weeks when combined with existing leave, to the city's 20,000 non-unionized employees. The mayor has now moved to negotiate the same benefits with municipal unions. Again, New York City private sector workers must look to Albany or Washington, D.C. to move on paid family leave for all.

Mayor de Blasio's recent actions support his goal of lifting 800,000 New Yorkers out of poverty over ten years. More than 20 percent of the city's population lives in poverty, a huge swath of a city commonly associated with extraordinary wealth.

The last couple of years have seen unparalleled momentum from workers themselves - from New York City to Los Angeles and Chicago - calling for livable wages, resulting in minimum wage raises for fast food workers and other groups.

Workers are not waiting patiently on government officials – they are organizing in an unprecedented way. Progressive mayors like de Blasio are responding with sound policy, while less responsive officials are being put on notice. Cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago are paving the way, showing that it is possible to act independently of state and federal governments.

In addition, laws raising the minimum wage to more than the pitiful federal standard of $7.25 an hour have passed in a number of states. There are now campaigns to raise the floor and standards for workers being led in 14 states and four cities. This momentum is building into a crescendo that will have deep implications for the 2016 presidential election.

Nearly half of our country's workers earn less than $15 an hour and 43 million are forced to work or place their jobs at risk when sick or faced with a critical care-giving need. Now is the time for cities to listen to their workers and override state and federal passivity to allow millions of hard-working Americans to provide for their families.

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JoEllen Chernow is minimum wage and paid sick days campaign director at Center for Popular Democracy. On Twitter @popdemoc.

A Case for None-Time-Limited Supportive Housing for Young Adults


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Mayor de Blasio with the city's mental health plan (photo: Mike Appleton)


Recently there has been a great deal of interest in young adult supportive housing without time limits or age caps. We may be witnessing the beginning stages of a paradigm shift in which there is acknowledgement of developmental variations among youth. Both Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and United States Interagency Council on Housing (USICH) consider this as a potentially more effective approach to ending youth homelessness.

Traditionally, housing for youth has been transitional. Even when 'permanent supportive housing' is used, most programs involve length of stay limits (usually 18-24 months), and age caps meant to define true adulthood and capability to live independently without support services.

Transitional programs generally have fairly regimented guidelines with the expectation that "graduation" from the program will enable each youth to move into their own apartment and achieve self-sufficiency. However, many of these youths move in with family or friends "temporarily" or are admitted to another time-limited housing program based on their need of continued services. A large number of these youths/young adults are dealing with past trauma and may have special needs such as mental health and substance abuse issues making it difficult, if not impossible, to live independently.

At West End we believe non-time-limited affordable housing with support services onsite is another effective solution in the spectrum of services for homeless and formerly homeless youth. Our "True Colors" supportive housing programs for formerly homeless LGBT youth are new and innovative examples of this model.

Each residence consists of 30 studio apartments, community space, computer lab/resource library, and laundry facilities. West End staffs each with a program director, clinical case manager, and life skills training manager, along with 24-hour security and a live-in building superintendent.

While tenants must be 18-24 years old upon move-in, they may stay as long as they need or choose providing they comply with their rental lease agreement and basic house rules. Our service delivery involves trauma informed care and harm reduction techniques.

We chose this supportive housing model because we believe the development of independent living skills is an organic process unique to each individual and that arbitrary age and programmatic time frames do not define actual needs or abilities, especially for those who are severely traumatized by homelessness, family rejection, and loss of support.

The success of our residents speaks to the quality and appropriateness of the model. Of the original tenants at the True Colors Residence, which opened four years ago, well over half have moved on to fully independent affordable housing while others still in need of our services remain supportive housing tenants. Equally impressive is the noted decrease in substance abuse, down from 60% to 30%, as well as the reduction of unemployment from 40% to 20%.

The provision of supportive housing without time limits is an effective way to end homelessness for young adults - for more information the USICH webinar on the subject is a great resource. We are pleased by both the Mayor's and the Governor's commitment to increase the supply of supportive housing units and look forward to working with the City and State to provide housing and services for LGBT young adults in need.

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Colleen Jackson is Chief Executive Officer of West End Residences HDFC, Inc. On Twitter @WestEndResNYC.

Don't Be Seduced By Sexy Transportation Projects


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Gov. Cuomo & his infrastructure plans (photo via The Governor's Office on flickr)


We don't research and write about New York's rich transportation history because we get excited about subway tokens or World's Fair era subway cars. Rather, we seek out information to help us learn from both our past mistakes and accomplishments. The most important lesson that we have learned is that we can't backtrack on investing in our existing infrastructure.

It's easy to be seduced by projects that expand subway and rail lines, but they can't come at the expense of fixing our deteriorating and seriously underfunded transit system. It's an important message to our elected officials in Albany who have not yet approved the MTA's five-year capital program, even though it was initially proposed fifteen months ago.

The events from January 12, 35 years ago, are seared in our memories because they remind us what can happen if New Yorkers again fail to raise taxes, tolls, or fares to adequately maintain our transit network. Early that frigid 1981 morning, a train derailed when a motor fell off a subway car.

Transit officials diverted buses to carry stranded subway riders; however, there were not enough buses since 637 of them had been taken out of service because of potential cracks in their undercarriages.

That day, subway riders on virtually every line were affected by crowding and delays because one-fifth of the subway cars were stalled in subway yards by mechanical failure. Extra maintenance workers were called in but their repair work was hampered by a lack of spare parts.

Unfortunately, it was not an isolated event.

Trains were breaking down, on average, every 6,600 miles. That compares to more than 140,000 miles today. In the early 1980s, doors were broken on more than one-third of the subway cars while graffiti covered nearly every surface of the cars and stations.

Most New Yorkers either aren't old enough or haven't lived in New York long enough to remember the state of the subways in the early 1980s. That is why we find it so disconcerting when we see history repeat itself.

New Yorkers got themselves into that situation because they didn't want to raise subway fares and they prioritized expanding the transit system over maintaining the existing infrastructure. At the time, the Second Avenue subway and other aborted major expansion projects had consumed almost half of the transit system's capital budget.

The subway system has come a long way in 35 years, but it still has not come back from decades of prior neglect. In the early 1980s, the MTA embarked on a ten-year program that it had hoped would bring the entire system up to a state of good repair. Then, it could replace equipment and components on a regular basis.
Keeping a system in a state of good repair is a necessary and expensive undertaking. Few of us think about the MTA's hidden infrastructure like its aging fan plants and ventilation systems, until there is a fire. Likewise, we don't think about the subway's 400 pumping stations until the stations and tunnels are flooded during a hurricane.

To understand the MTA's need for more than five billion dollars a year to maintain its resources, just consider the system's buses. The MTA has about 5,700 buses which have a useful life of about 12 years. That means on average, the MTA needs to replace one-twelfth of its buses every year, which is about 475 buses annually. Since 40-foot buses cost about $500,000 and 60-foot buses about $750,000, the MTA needs to spend more than $250 million every single year just to replace its existing bus fleet on a regular basis.

Alas, after 30 years and spending more than $100 billion, the MTA still hasn't reached that state of good repair nirvana. Repairing and replacing equipment that goes back more than a 100 years has been far more expensive and complicated than anyone expected. The subway system still has elevators, escalators, tunnel lighting, power systems, ventilation equipment and maintenance facilities that are not in good repair.

More than 30 years of investments has transformed the transit system, but it has also put the MTA under enormous strain, because it has been paid for with more than $34 billion in loans. That is why the MTA is now spending more than 30 percent of the revenue it generates from tolls and fares to paying off its growing debt.
If the MTA doesn't get the resources it needs, transit services will suffer both in the short-term and long-term. And, allowing facilities and equipment to stay in a state of disrepair is costly because older equipment breaks down more often and requires costly repairs.

Failing to raise sufficient funds while simultaneously trying to expand the transit system got New York into a jam in the '80s. The MTA is now spending $11 billion to bring the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal, a project that will have widespread benefits for New York, but one that has taken resources away from rehabilitating the existing system.

We want everyone to remember January 12, 1981 because the MTA is again being pulled and tugged in numerous directions to expand the system without sufficient funds to pay for them. 

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by Philip M. Plotch and Nicholas D. Bloom

Previous columns by these authors:

Plotch is an assistant professor of political science and director of the Masters in Public Administration program at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City. He is the former director of World Trade Center Redevelopment and Special Projects for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and the former manager of planning for New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He is the author of Politics Across the Hudson: The Tappan Zee Megaproject.

Bloom is associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology where he is also Chair of Urban Administration and Interdisciplinary Studies. He has written many books including The Metropolitan Airport: JFK International and Modern New York and the forthcoming edited collection from Princeton University Press, Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City.

To Fix Penn Station, Think Smaller


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Cuomo with a new Penn Station plan (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo deserves credit for jumpstarting the Moynihan Station project this week, albeit under a different moniker. After decades of neglect, commuters and long-distance travelers deserve light, air, and dignity.

But Cuomo's plan neglects the deeper problems that have long plagued Penn Station.

In 1970, one railroad controlled the transportation hub. After it went bankrupt, New York State took over trains to Long Island, New Jersey took over trains to the Garden State, and the Feds took on the rest.

Chaos ensued. Some routine trips now required three different types of tickets bought in three different ways. Passengers boarded from three different concourses with three different departure boards.

And worst of all, three different railroads clogged the same number of tracks.

Crowds, delays, and frustration become the norm. And after Superstorm Sandy decimated Penn's tunnels, the three railroads bickered and dithered as riders suffered.

Even with a reinvented station complex overhead, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak will still share the mostly same tracks, cramped platforms, and underwater tunnels. It's unlikely that decades of dysfunction will disappear after the ribbons are cut.

And with ridership climbing and Sandy repairs looming, the trio can barely keep up with the status quo — let alone support the expansion that the economy demands.

Cooperation would help resolve these problems. Running commuter trains between Long Island and New Jersey — rather than terminating them at Penn — could double capacity while opening up jobs to those on both sides of Manhattan. Coordinated communications and ticketing could ease crowding and nerves. And other options, such as sharing services, would slow the rate of fare increases for riders of all stripes.

To truly fix Penn Station, Cuomo must look beyond the building. Cooperation among the railroads is the missing ingredient in the governor's plan.

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Adrian Untermyer is Deputy Director of the Historic Districts Council and was named an Emerging Leader in Transportation by the NYU Rudin Center. On Twitter @untermyer.

A New York New Year's Resolution: End the AIDS Epidemic


Cuomo AIDS Day

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)


The year 2016 could go down in history as the pivotal year in New York's fight against HIV/AIDS. Nearly 35 years after The New York Times reported the first cases of what would later be recognized as AIDS, New York State is poised to become the first jurisdiction in the world to end its HIV epidemic, even without a cure, by stopping new infections and ending AIDS deaths.

Thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo's leadership, New York State has developed a viable plan that, if fully funded and implemented, will end our AIDS epidemic by the year 2020, and can become a blueprint for all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Now, for the plan to succeed, every New York community must match Governor Cuomo's commitment with renewed energy, support, and action.

Governor Cuomo launched New York's Ending the Epidemic initiative in 2014 by announcing a three-point plan to expand HIV testing, treatment, and prevention to decrease new HIV infections from 3,000 a year in 2013 to less than 750 by 2020. He pointed out that we have the tools: Current antiretroviral medications can keep HIV-positive persons healthy and stop ongoing transmission of the virus, and, when taken as prevention, they can protect those at highest risk of HIV infection.

We now must work to remove barriers to treatment and prevention so all New Yorkers can benefit equally from these advances. These obstacles are also linked to social disparities, including lack of access to health insurance and linkage to care for mental health and substance use, secure housing, and employment opportunities, making it challenging for those living with HIV to receive and sustain treatment.

In April 2015, Gov. Cuomo endorsed the Ending the Epidemic Blueprint, consisting of 30 recommendations to achieve the governor's goals as well as seven "getting to zero" recommendations to reach zero new HIV infections, stigma, and AIDS deaths by 2020. I was proud to be a member of the task force of experts from around New York State that created the blueprint.

Just last month, the Governor made history again by pledging to include $200 million in additional state funding in his executive budget to fully implement blueprint recommendations.

Gov. Cuomo's budget commitment could go a long way to support our efforts to end HIV/AIDS here in New York City, allowing for expanded housing, transportation, and other critical services for our most vulnerable New Yorkers with HIV, as well as treatment and prevention strategies targeted to reach and retain those most in need. Amida Care serves people with HIV every day, and with stable housing and affordable care, our community members can live long and full lives.

We also know that better access to new prevention tools—including PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), a daily pill that involves the use of anti-retroviral medication to prevent HIV transmission— has been shown to be over 90 percent effective.

At Amida Care, the largest Medicaid special-needs health plan (SNP) in New York State, we have demonstrated the power of providing holistic, accessible HIV and AIDS treatment and care to underserved and often overlooked communities. Amida Care is one of five Medicaid managed care plans selected to participate in Gov. Cuomo's new $2.5 million pilot program to bring 6,000 HIV positive patients into care and provide support to achieve viral suppression.

Through our specialized model of care, we have already achieved a viral suppression rate approaching 75 percent among our HIV-positive members. Successes like these save lives and produce much-needed long-term health care savings. But we must continue to push further to end the AIDS epidemic.

It is crucial to ensure that Governor Cuomo's new $200 million allocation to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York is fully supported in the final budget passed by the State Assembly and Senate. This wise public investment will improve HIV health outcomes and prevent thousands of new infections, saving both lives and billions of dollars in avoided health care costs.

With the governor's budget commitment, we will have the tools, a blueprint, and the resources needed to end our AIDS epidemic. The rest is up to us.

There is much work to be done in 2016. But together, by following the governor's leadership and continuing to take action, we can achieve an AIDS-free New York by 2020.

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Doug Wirth is the president and CEO of Amida Care, a not-for-profit health plan that specializes in providing comprehensive health coverage and coordinated care to New Yorkers with chronic conditions, including HIV and behavioral health disorders.

Paid Family Leave in NYC: Progressive Policy, Regressive Plan


de blasio desk red

The mayor (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Paid parental leave is a hallmark of civilized societies that financially support family values. It is laudable that the City of New York wishes to be included in those ranks, starting by mandating paid parental leave for city managerial employees. But the de Blasio administration does so by having those employees pay for it themselves with a reduction in their next scheduled pay increase and the loss of two vacation days for some. That's hardly an act of a progressive employer.

Many of the managerial employees being covered by the mayor's executive order are not high-salaried executives. Some are managers whose pay starts at $57,210 annually, which translates to $27.50 per hour. City managers with 20, even 30 years of service have passed a series of civil service tests that they must pay to take. Still, some are barely making a living wage.

Most are not policy makers, this work is done by elected officials and agency commissioners. Instead, the managers make sure that the service goals set by the policy makers are met. They are the policy implementers who keep our city running 24/7 no matter who the elected officials and their top-level appointees, who largely most over $200,000 per year.

An adult with one child making $27.40 per hour barely qualifies as making living wage according to the Living Wage Calculator for New York County designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT calculator was used in determining that the minimum wage should be a living wage of $15 per hour. A $15 hourly minimum wage is strongly supported by the de Blasio administration, as evidenced by the mayor's recently announced plan to move all city employees to that minimum over the next couple of years.

De Blasio believes that all those in the private sector, like entry-level fast food workers, should soon make a minimum of $15 per hour too.

Shouldn't the minimum be something more for managers who oversee the spending of millions of tax dollars for vital city services? After years of service, shouldn't those managers be well above $27.40 per hour? And, when we rightfully seek to expand family leave benefits to those managers, shouldn't they not have to sacrifice pay increases?

Cheating city managers out of a full pay increase to pay for a progressive policy like paid family leave challenges the credibility of the city's true commitment to the new parental leave policy. Back in Jamaica, Queens where I grew up it is called "putting your money where your mouth is," which is what I want to see the City do on paid family leave.

The current scheme forces managers to buy their own paid family leave and therefore reduces its impact. Paid family leave is a progressive policy - making employees pay for it is not.

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Arthur Cheliotes is President of CWA Local 1180, a municipal union representing more than 8,500 workers and 6,200 retirees. Most work in one of dozens of New York City mayoral agencies; others at the Department of Education, Health and Hospitals Corporation, NYCHA, the Transit Authority, the School Construction Authority, and the state's Unified Court System.

More Evidence Punitive NYPD Youth Programs Fail


Bratton NYPD

(photo via @NYPDnews)

 


 

This week the New York Times revealed the content of an internal NYPD report showing that a much lauded juvenile crime program doesn’t work. It’s yet another example of misguided punitive policing, offering little by way of actual progress.

Originally developed under the title “Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program” (J-RIP), it targets past juvenile offenders in hopes of preventing future crime. The original J-RIP program, which began in Brownsville in 2007 and expanded to East Harlem in 2009, targeted juvenile robbery offenders who were back in the community. These youths were given a clear message that they were under enhanced police supervision and would face significant consequences if rearrested. They were also offered mentoring and a few support services by police in hopes of steering them in the right direction.

In practice, the program offered little in the way of services. Young people were given a chance to participate in existing programs like the Police Athletic League (PAL) and were regularly visited by uniformed officers in their homes and on the streets. While these officers were supposed to be acting as mentors and monitors, defense lawyers reported that officers sometimes used these visits as a pretext to conduct searches and that they sometimes called attention to program relationships in front of other youth, potentially marking them as informants—a dangerous label in these neighborhoods.

No real services, such as job placement or family counseling were provided, and the officers involved had no special social services training, playing a primarily surveillance and enforcement role.

In April of 2014, NYPD Chief Joanne Jaffe, who developed the program, spoke at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, where she lauded J-RIP as being highly effective. She provided data that showed that over the course of the program robberies in the targeted areas had fallen significantly. What she did not discuss, but the November 2014 NYPD evaluation report makes clear, is that the decline mirrored city-wide trends and that J-RIP participants were rearrested at the same or higher rates than youth with similar records in the same and nearby neighborhoods without J-RIP.

Even though the 2014 report showed there were no crime reductions under J-RIP, the NYPD has moved forward with an expansion of the program in a different guise.

In early 2015, the NYPD rolled out NYC Ceasefire, under the leadership of Susan Herman, Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing. The new version focuses more on gun crimes and adds group “call-in” meetings in which the targeted youth are brought in and lectured by police and community members about the harmful effects of their violent actions and the potential enhanced consequences of additional violent offenses. They are then placed under extensive surveillance regimes and targeted for enhanced punishments if caught re-offending. They are also offered some minimal services, primarily in the form of a centralized referral phone number run by a local non-profit that is there to link young people to already existing programs.

J-RIP and NYC Ceasefire are both examples of “Focused Deterrence” programs. Developed by criminologist David Kennedy, and first implemented in Boston in 1996, they attempt to stop gun violence or other serious crime through intensive and targeted enforcement combined with support services.

Ideally this model begins with a community mobilization effort in partnership with local police. The goal is to send a unified message to young people that serious crime will no longer be tolerated. If it occurs, they will use every resource at their disposal (“pulling levers”) to not only apprehend the assailant but to disrupt the street life of young people involved in crime across the board. The hope is that young people will choose to avoid violence so that they can concentrate on socializing and low level criminality free of constant police harassment. This is based on research that showed that a great deal of shooting was not drug or robbery related but involved a constant tit for tat of revenge gunfire by rival factions of young people engaged primarily in turf battles.

The key is to break that cycle of retribution and gun carrying. To achieve this, young people believed to be involved in violence are called into meetings with local police and community leaders and threatened with intensive surveillance and enforcement if the gun violence doesn’t stop. These “call ins” are made possible in part because many of these young people are on probation or parole for past offenses.

In addition to more intensive enforcement efforts, there is usually an effort to develop some targeted social services with the hope that this will help draw some of these young people away from violence and towards education and employment opportunities.

This approach relies primarily on intensive punitive enforcement efforts such as surveillance, investigations, arrests, and intensified prosecutions. Also, the social services offered tend to be very thin, involving some counseling and recreational opportunities but rarely access to actual jobs or advanced educational placements.

Some youth are able to get GEDs and access some social programs, but very few wind up with jobs, much less well-paying or stable ones. In some cases the focus is on a variety of life skills and socialization classes which do nothing to create real opportunities for people and reinforce the ethos of personal responsibility that often ends up blaming the victim for their unemployment and educational failure in a community that tends to be incredibly poor, underserved, segregated, and dangerous.

Evaluation research of these programs does show some meaningful declines in crime that can even last for years. Overall, though, the results are quite thin. Most reductions are small, occur in only a few crime categories, and don’t last very long. They also continue to reinforce a punitive mindset about how to deal with young people in high crime, high poverty communities, most of whom are not white.

It is certainly true that violent crime is heavily concentrated among a fairly small population of young people in specific neighborhoods. It makes more sense to target them than indiscriminately stopping and frisking or arresting and summonsing hundreds of thousands of young people who have either done nothing wrong or engaged in minor misbehavior. Despite the claims of the Broken Windows theory, there really isn’t a strong connection between the two groups.

The problem lies not in the targeting, but in the methods used. Most young people who engage in serious criminality are already living in harsh and dangerous circumstances. They are fearful of other youth, abusive family members, and the prospect of a future of joblessness and poverty. They don’t need more threats and punishment in their lives.

They need stability, positive guidance, and real pathways out of poverty. This requires a long-term commitment to their well-being, not a telephone referral and home visits by the same people who arrest and harass them and their friends on the streets. It was Bill Bratton, in his first stint as NYPD commissioner, who pointed out that police officers are not social workers, they’re not trained for it, nor prepared for it, and that’s not their role. Why would they be the best-suited for engaging these young people as mentors or life skills trainers? They aren’t.

It makes much more sense to do two types of things.

First, we have to have a real conversation about entrenched racialized poverty concentrated in highly-segregated neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods that continue to be the main source of violent crime problems. It is true that crime has declined overall without major reductions in poverty or segregation, but it’s also true that the crime that remains is concentrated in these areas. And, unlike aggressive policing and mass incarceration, doing something about racialized poverty and exclusion would have general benefits for society in terms of reducing poverty, inequality, and racial injustice.

Second, we need to use peer-based mentoring systems and outreach workers, who can talk to people from a shared position of living in one of these neighborhoods. The power of that connection for building credibility cannot be overstated. Recently, Mayor de Blasio has expanded a number of City Council-developed initiatives to use violence interrupters and other community-based and public health-oriented interventions to reduce gun violence.

So-called “cure violence” programs like SOS Crown Heights, and GMACC in East Flatbush are training young adults to break the cycle of violence through rumor control, gang truces, and ongoing engagement with youth out on the streets. They provide safe spaces for young people to talk out their problems and when well-funded, provide real services to them and their families to deal with problems of housing, education, and unemployment, as well as mental illness and substance abuse.

It’s time for Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD to abandon NYC Ceasefire and other focused deterrence initiatives that primarily criminalize young people. We already know that jails and prisons produce much worse life outcomes for these youth. Let’s stop relying on coercion and control and try more compassion and concern.

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Alex S. Vitale is associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter: @avitale

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