arts increases

City will hire 100 new arts teachers and invest in facilities with additional $23M

PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how the city would spend an additional $23 million in arts funding at the Bronx Museum of the Arts Tuesday.

The city will divide up an additional $23 million set aside for arts education to hire 120 new teachers, improve and create new facilities, and provide arts teachers with funds to purchase new supplies, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

Directing the additional funds, which will bring the city’s total arts spending to about $353 million, is the first step toward bringing the city’s public schools into compliance with state law, which requires all middle and high schools to have some form of arts education, de Blasio said.

“For too long, we had under-invested in arts education and cultural education in our schools,” de Blasio said. “And it was time to right that wrong and do something aggressive about it.”

De Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday that the money would be spent in a range of ways, following weeks of advocates pushing their own priorities. The department will spend $4.7 million to put 100 arts teachers in pairs of middle schools, $7.5 million to make improvements to facilities, and $1.4 million to expand partnerships with cultural organizations, officials said. The city will also set aside $1,000 for each full-time arts teacher to purchase supplies.

Schools will be able to apply for grants to hire new teachers or improve their arts facilities, and will be encouraged to work with nearby or co-located schools to apply together so that the funding can reach more schools, officials said.

“We’re also asking schools that are co-located to actually talk to each other,” Fariña said. “Because when we look at schools that may be in same building and aren’t getting along, the arts will bring them together.”

During his mayoral campaign, de Blasio vowed to add funding for the arts and set a goal that all students would receive state-mandated arts instruction within four years. All told, this year’s additional money is an approximately 7 percent increase over last year’s citywide arts spending.

The funding increase does not change the policy, put in place under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that cut a dedicated line for the arts from school budgets, allowing principals to redirect funds to offset budget cuts. The school system lost more than 200 certified arts teachers after that change, according to a report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer, who stood next to de Blasio at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, praised the mayor for swiftly acting on his report, which he said showed “shocking disparities.” One in five city schools do not have a full-time, certified arts teacher, according to his analysis, and schools in the poorest areas of the city were least likely to offer arts education.

The M.S. 215 band played before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how increased funding for arts education would be spent Tuesday.
PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
The M.S. 215 band played before Mayor Bill de Blasio announced how increased funding for arts education would be spent Tuesday.

Fariña said she believed adding arts programs will increase attendance, especially among middle school students who need something extra to capture their interests. Funding to improve auditoriums and dance floors, even when shared by schools, can help students have more opportunities to perform, she said, increasing students’ confidence.

“How many of you like going on the stage and showing off for people? Absolutely! Why not? So this is an important thing,” Fariña asked members of the M.S. 215 band who played at the announcement, noting that all of the school auditoriums in the city would get some “sprucing up.”

More than $350,000 will also go toward funding a partnership between the Lincoln Center and Hunter College of New York to train 20 new teachers as arts educators over the next three years. While completing the two-year training program, teachers will be able to apply for full-time teaching positions in city schools.

Eric Pryor, executive director of the Center for Arts Education, who has criticized the city’s arts education offerings in recent years, said he was heartened by the new push for partnerships.

“The announcement today shows that they believe in that and they’re investing in helping to broaden what our students receive, particularly our most vulnerable children,” Pryor said.

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