Budget Battle

In budget deal, a facilities boost for some—but not all—NYC charter schools

Updated, 11:25 p.m. New and expanding charter schools in New York City will get access to facilities funding, but existing charters already in private space will receive less aid, according to people briefed the framework of a state budget deal.

The deal also includes extra per-pupil aid for all charter schools, which would come from the state and be spread out over three years—an increase that would break several years of flat funding.

Legislators are still hammering out the final pieces of the state budget legislation and aren’t expected to submit a final budget until Friday. But they have come to an agreement on some major issues relating to charter school space-sharing problems, a centerpiece of the year’s negotiations.

The deal puts New York City on the hook to find space for charter schools in city buildings, something that the Bloomberg administration offered to about two-thirds of the city’s 183-school charter sector without a legislative imperative. If the city can’t or does not want to work out a co-location arrangement, it will have to pay schools extra so that they can afford to rent and operate in private space, according to the terms of the deal, the sources said.

A third-party arbitrator would make a final ruling if the city and a charter school disagrees over a co-location plan.

Those changes would be significant at a time when the de Blasio administration has dramatically tempered the Bloomberg administration’s enthusiasm for co-location. Earlier this month, it rolled back three space-sharing plans for Success Academy charter schools, although it also allowed several others to proceed.

De Blasio’s shift against charter schools ignited a public relations battle waged by Success CEO Eva Moskowitz and other charter school advocates. Their campaign received a lift from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who promised to “save” the sector so that it could continue to grow.

The following week, the State Senate’s budget proposal included a package of pro-charter school bills aimed at ensuring that the schools didn’t have to pay facilities costs out of their operating budgets.

One of those proposals, to offer privately-housed charter schools a share of state building aid, was not included in the deal, apparently getting yanked off the table as recently as yesterday. That will affect the city’s 68 charter schools in private space, as well as all 57 charter schools outside of the city in private space.

The omission disappointed advocates who hoped these schools, which put together serve about 45,000 students, would get more facilities help.

“We are happy to see that new charter schools in New York City will have access to space, but it’s unfortunate that schools in private space, both in the city as well as across the state, received nothing under this deal,” said Northeast Charter Schools Network President Bill Phillips. “Their needs were just as severe.”

Charter schools in private space, because they must pay for facilities costs out of their operating budgets, have less money to use on educational programs. In New York City, the gap between district and co-located charter schools is about $3,500 and ranges from less than $1,000 to close to $3,000 elsewhere in the state.

“Those schools in private space have, in effect, been subsidizing the education of kids in the city,” Phillips added. “They’ve been paying for their own building and they got no help in this deal.”

The budget deal has one upside for all charter schools in the state, no matter where they are housed. Charter schools will receive an overall $500 increase in per-pupil funding over the next three years, starting with $250 next year. The funding will come from the state, saving de Blasio and from incurring new costs at a time when he is negotiating retroactive raises for the city’s teachers and planning a massive expansion of pre-kindergarten and after-school programs.

The state will pay $125 per charter school student in the second year and $125 in the final year (A larger increase, which a spokesman for Speaker Sheldon Silver confirmed, was in the original version of this article). In just New York City, that would cost the state nearly $50 million based on the city’s charter school enrollment projections. Enrollment is estimated to grow from about 70,000 this year to 125,000 in three years. There are another 20,000 charter school students outside of New York City.

But New York City Charter Center CEO James Merriman said he saw it less optimistically. By his estimation, he said in a statement, the negotiated increase is worse off for charters than than the funding mechanism originally proposed in Cuomo’s budget proposal in January. That would have lifted a per-pupil funding freeze that had been held flat at $13,527 for the last three years.

Instead, the freeze was extended for an additional three years, which means that districts won’t have to divert money away from its portfolio of district schools. The state’s $500 increase is designed to partially compensate for that, but Merriman said it wasn’t enough.

Referring to comments made by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Capital New York on Thursday night, Merriman criticized that part of the deal.

“Speaker Silver’s assertion that the budget is a boon for charter schools and results in fair funding for charter and district schools, is highly misleading,” Merriman said in a statement.

The final budget is not yet complete and lawmakers are still hammering out details about what kind of access charter schools will have to pre-k funding, sources said. If lawmakers want to have the budget bill ready for an on-time vote on Monday, they must finalize the language by the end of the day on Friday.

But legislative leaders said that they were nearing the finish line. Senate co-leader Jeff Klein said that all that was left was wrapping up “technical details.”

“We’re very very close to an agreement in everything,” Klein said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the total per-pupil increase that charter schools would receive under the state’s tentative deal.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede