Thursday, 27 August 2009 05:23

Putting gift cards to good use

GothamSchools led us to a post on The New York Times Bits Blog about a partnership between two innovative websites that allows you to turn unused gift cards into donations for schools.

According to Plastic Jungle, which buys, sells and trades gift cards, the average American household has around $400 worth in unused cards. Plastic Jungle's users typically exchange cards for crash or a credit at, but now they have another option: allied with, the site allows users to donate the face value of a gift card to schools in need.

Back in 2007, our blogger Jennifer Freeman introduced us to DonorsChoose, which offers public school teachers the opportunity to post their needs for classroom projects in the hopes of receiving funding. You can browse the project requests and donate to the cause of your choice -- and thanks to Plastic Jungle, not just with your credit card, but with your unused gift cards, too!

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Wednesday, 26 August 2009 08:26

Update: Parents prevail (for now)

In July, we reported that, following a flood of parent complaints, the Department of Education would re-consider its ban on  parent-funded assistants in schools. According to The New York Times, the DOE has reached an agreement with the teachers' union to allow the school aides to stay -- at least for this upcoming year.

Principals will be permitted to hire aides with money raised by parents’ groups as long as those aides are included in the official school budget, which makes them eligible for union protection. The DOE and union officials hope to come to a long-term solution before the current agreement expires at the end of the school year.

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Monday, 10 August 2009 12:55

“Penneys” add up for after school

Just when financially-strapped parents increasingly rely on free after school care for their children,  many programs have  become a casualty of school budget cuts. A venerable  department store, new to Manhattan, has stepped into the breach to help provide funding for families in need of after school programs.

If you shop at the new JCPenney store at the Manhattan Mall in Herald Square between now and Aug. 16,  you'll be invited to "round up" the total cost of your purchase to the next dollar, with the proceeds going to support local after school programs.   All donations collected at the store will go to the Children's Aid Society of New York, which will also receive a $5,000 grant from the JCPenney Afterschool Fund to help the charity provide children in need with access to its after school programs.

In addition, to commemorate the store's opening, the JC Penney Afterschool Fund made a $100,000 donation to establish the After-school Arts Partnership (ASAP) to give children in after school programs greater access to the city's cultural offerings.  The donation was received by the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City to support the Out-of-School Time initiative.  An additional $50,000 donation was made to The After-School Corporation (TASC), the non-profit organization that advocates for comprehensive after school programs in New York City and across the country.

Since its inception, the JCPenney Afterschool Fund, along with JCPenney has contributed more than $70 million to after school programs. Do you know of other local merchants who have similar back-to-school offers which could benefit  schools and students?
Share the information here.

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After a flood of parent complaints about the Department of Education's crackdown on parent associations independently paying for teaching aides in crowded classrooms, the DOE is  reconsidering its decision and may allow the practice to go forward this year after all. The New York Times, Gothamschools, and the Daily News report that, yesterday, Chancellor Klein proposed an arrangement  in which the assistants would be called "substitute aides" and paid $12.30 per hour. He made his proposal at a meeting at Tweed with parents from a dozen Manhattan schools and City Councilmembers who put together the meeting.

The arrangement is subject to the approval of the District Council 37, the union representing non-instructional school staff.

In a letter yesterday to parents at the Lower Lab School, where parents reportedly spend $250,000 per year on teaching aides, the PTA co-presidents said the plan, if finalized, "is a win-win situation for all (especially our children)."

The capitulation on the part of the DOE is bound to spark more controversy: Parents have been actively debating this issue here on the InsideSCOOP, arguing fiercely for and against the practice of parent-paid teaching aides.

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Monday, 20 July 2009 09:53

Parent-funded assistants get the boot

In April, our blogger Jennifer Freeman wrote about the potential for parent-funded teachers' aides to be pushed out of our city's overcrowded classrooms. That looming threat has now become a reality, The New York Times reported yesterday.

Parent associations at top schools have a long tradition of raising thousands of dollars to independently hire assistants to help teachers in the classroom, run enrichment programs, or manage students in the cafeteria and at recess. Sparked by a complaint from the teachers union, however, the Bloomberg administration has told principals to put an end to the practice. Any aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education whose salaries are included in the school's official budget.

DOE employees will cost schools more money. While teaching assistants hired by parents earn $12 to $15 an hour, unionized paraprofessionals earn around $23 plus benefits. Even if schools want to pay their current aides the union wage, they won't be able to keep them on staff because of the citywide hiring freeze. The future of additional adults in classrooms is now up in the air.

Jennifer's April post got some great comments from our readers.  Is this yet another example of Bloomberg steamrolling parental involvement in schools? Or is it a necessary measure to level the playing field citywide? Please let us know what you think!

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In Albany, the State Assembly's Education Committee has passed a revised version of mayoral control which may be voted on by the entire Assembly as early as tomorrow. Over at the Senate,  Hiram Montserrate, the indicted former City Council member who last week defected to the Albany Republicans, has returned to the Democratic fold, for a Senate-splitting 31-31 tie between the parties.

Meanwhile, the mayoral control endorsements continue, at the Times, the Post, and the Daily News. Even UFT president Randi Weingarten, one-time opponent of mayoral control, has come around to the Bloomberg-Klein point of view.

Locally, the city's budget has won 'handshake' approval by the City Council -- with no guarantee that schools' funds will not be hit again. It's thought that more than 2,000 school employees will find themselves out of work in 2009-2010 -- cuts that reach beyond school offices into the classroom, affecting teachers and paraprofessionals.

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Friday, 05 June 2009 05:59

Map what's missing

Our colleagues at GothamSchools have a nifty new feature built to assess the impact of the coming budget cuts:  If you know what's on the chopping block at your child's school, chime in and help paint an e-portrait of what 5 percent cuts look and feel like across the city.

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A big budget hurdle for charter schools was just lowered.

"Despite a prohibition on using state funds to build charter schools, the city has quietly expanded available funding for charter school construction to as much as $3.8 billion," writes the New York Post. The extra money is part of a provision in the capital construction plan.

To date, charter schools have not received public funds for facility expenses. Many charter schools in New York City have been able to survive because Mayor Bloomberg has allowed them to use Department of Education buildings rent-free. Charter school advocates have long lobbied for the ban on state funds to be lifted, since depending on who controls the school system next, charter schools could have to start paying steep city rent prices.

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Friday, 29 May 2009 09:06

Poll: budget cuts and grade the mayor

Last week, we asked you what you would cut from your school's budget if you had to make the difficult decision to let something, or someone, go. The most respondents, 39 percent, said that they would cut non-teaching staff, such as office workers and school aides. Twenty-two percent said that they would cut afterschool tutoring, remediation, and test prep. Letting go of arts and other specialty teachers was the least popular option, with only seven percent of respondents choosing it. Click here to see the full results.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, every school is graded annually, but this week, we want you to grade the mayor. Since the mayoral control law sunsets on June 30, school governance is being vigorously debated. Many argue that Bloomberg has staked his legacy on education - how do you think he has performed?

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Last week, we asked if you had a plan for saving for college. The most respondents (35 percent) said that they would have to rely on scholarships or more moderately priced schools. Another 18 percent said “We’ve saved, but the tumultuous markets have taken a big bite out of our funds.” Almost 30 percent of respondents would like some help with their planning – 14 percent of them feel that they have no extra money to save and 13 percent said that they have tried to put a little aside but need guidance. A small fraction of respondents – 5 percent – will have family help with tuition bills, and 18 percent have been saving and feel that they are on the right track.

This week, we are wondering what you would cut from your child’s school if you were in charge of slimming down the 2009/2010 budget. Some schools will have to cut up to 5 percent of their budget, and principals will have to make some very difficult decisions. As always, we welcome your comments.

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