Test scores rise, CUNY tuition now free in eventful school year

By Naeisha Rose

It was a tumultuous year for education in Queens, throughout the city and in New York state and even as 2017 comes to a close the challenges remain high.

Public school advocates were in an uproar in the spring when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at the Academy of Finance and Enterprise in Long Island City a $25.8 billion education bill, which provided charter schools with $1.1 billion in aid, while public schools received $700 million out of an expected $1.9 billion.

Many advocates believe funding for public schools is being siphoned off by charter schools despite a 1993 lawsuit from the Foundation Aid and Campaign for Fiscal Equity that was settled in 2007 under Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Under the settlement $5.5 billion was to go to public schools in the state’s urban district over the course of several years, but the public school system only received funds for two years, at which point funding was frozen, according to Alliance for Quality Education Executive Director Billy Easton.

“The courts found that the state was violating the students’ rights to education and that it needed to make sure that schools had a lot more funding,” Easton said.

As the demand for charter schools increased in the borough with 6,310 students on a wait list in Queens, Mayor Bill de Blasio fought tooth and nail against Senate Republicans, mostly from upstate New York, to maintain control of city schools, which included keeping a cap on charters and not giving corporations that support them tax credits that would cost the city money over the summer.

When everything was said and done, the mayor regained control of schools, which meant the city’s school system did not revert back to being run by 32 different school districts, but charter schools were able to get building upgrades and transportation support for its students.

During the fall, the governor’s Excelsior Scholarship allowed thousands of students to attend CUNY and SUNY schools for free.

Queens College, Queensborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College and York College students make up over 2,000 of the more than 210,000 New Yorkers to receive the scholarship.

“New York leads the nation in creating equal opportunity for all, and we will continue to work to ensure that access to a college degree is not determined by family finances, but rather is available to all who work to hard and dream big,” Cuomo said.

Unfortunately, Dreamers were left out of the chance for a free scholarship in order for Cuomo to get the CUNY and SUNY initiative to pass when the state officials voted on the measure in the spring.

Dulce Hernandez, a student at Queens College, was happy for CUNY, but disappointed for Dreamers like herself who were brought to the United States as children by undocumented parents.

“I’m glad that CUNY decided to do a tuition-free program,” Hernandez said. “We are at poverty level. We have to save up and work. It’s stressing.”

Fall also meant the release of state test scores.

English and math students across the city inched toward higher scores in state exams, according to the state’s Education Department.

City students’ scores increased by 2.6 percent to 40.6 percent from 38 percent in English proficiency for 2017, according to the Education Department’s data. Students also increased math scores by 1.4 percent to 37.8 percent from 36.4 percent of those who were found proficient.

Charter schools outperformed public schools in those exams.

Charter students scored 48.2 percent on English exams and 51.7 percent in math, according to the Education Department data.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, 74, announced Dec. 21 at a press conference with the mayor that she is retiring from the education sector once again and will leave her post as the head of the Department of Education and New York City Schools after returning four years ago.

“I want to share with you my plans to retire (again) in the coming months,” Fariña said. “As I begin to prepare to step down as chancellor, I want to reflect on our accomplishments.”

As the mayor became emotional thanking Fariña for her over 40 years of service in education, he noted under her leadership city schools had the highest graduation rate, college readiness rate and improved test scores during her tenure compared to the years prior to her becoming chancellor. He also praised her for helping him to spearhead pre-K for All and 3-K for All.

“I can say this from the bottom of my heart: She will leave public service with her head held high,” de Blasio said.

Her retirement came four days after she announced that 14 struggling schools were being shut down across the city.

The Brian Piccolo Middle School (MS 53) located at 10-45 Naemoke St. in Far Rockaway and the Robert Vernam School (PS/MS 42) at 488 Beach 66th St. in Arverne are the two renewal schools in Queens on the chopping block, according to the chancellor.

The Renewal Schools program received $500 million to help turn around low-performing schools across the city, according to the DOE.

The program has seen mixed results, but some of the successes include August Martin High School, PS 111, Flushing High School and Martin Van Buren High School, which have been removed from the list

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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