the first draft

De Blasio’s spending plan would hike budgets at more than 650 schools

PHOTO: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio presents New York City’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to increase the budgets of hundreds of city schools next year and spend millions on his efforts to prepare more students for high-level classes and push them through to graduation.

His $82.1 billion city budget proposal, released Thursday, shows how the city plans to achieve the education goals de Blasio laid out last fall, when he pledged to raise the graduation rate, ensure second-graders could read on grade level, and offer more students the chance to take high-level math classes.

“Our budget will help lift up the next generation,” de Blasio said Thursday, “through a number of investments that will bring our ‘Equity and Excellence’ agenda to our schools.”

Here’s a breakdown.

Big budget boosts

Last year, the city pumped up struggling schools’ budgets. Now, the mayor is proposing do the same for nearly 660 additional schools.

The city would spend $159 million to raise the minimum funding level for all schools, a bump that would affect 657 schools currently below that threshold. That amounts to an average increase of $242,000 per school.

The cost of college access

De Blasio made college preparation the centerpiece of his agenda-setting speech at the start of the school year, where he said every high schooler should have access to advanced courses and help with college applications.

As a start, his budget sets aside $15 million next year to expand the number of Advanced Placement classes, an amount that will grow steadily each year until peaking at nearly $51 million in 2020. The goal is for every school to offer at least five AP classes.

Another $15 million will fund a pilot counseling program for over 16,000 students in two high-needs districts in the South Bronx and Brownsville, Brooklyn, where students are less likely to earn a diploma than almost anywhere else in the city. The “Single Shepherd” program will pair each middle and high school student there with a counselor to help with academic and personal problems, and guide them toward graduation.

The proposal puts $20 million toward the city’s “Algebra for All” initiative, which aims to get more eighth-graders prepared for algebra and more middle schools prepared to teach it. Today, about 40 percent of city middle schools do not offer algebra.

Another $16 million would pay for 400 literacy coaches to work with second-graders, keeping them on track through elementary school. The plan would also fund “transition coordination centers” in each borough designed to help older students with disabilities plan for college and careers.

Attention to overcrowding

De Blasio’s plan would allocate $868 million to add 11,800 new seats in schools, part of his administration’s long-term bid to reduce overcrowding. That would bring the number of new seats created by the city’s current five-year plan to more than 44,000.

A new capital plan, also released Thursday, notes that the city has made a dramatic adjustment to its estimate of how many more seats it truly needs — raising that figure by 33,000. Advocates of lower class sizes, and critics of the city’s methods of measuring school space, have long called for that kind of re-evaluation.

Funding for discipline and safety

The de Blasio administration has updated the school discipline code, urging schools to pivot away from suspensions and towards a less punitive “restorative justice” approach.

But advocates of that problem-solving take on discipline have complained that many educators lack the training to pull it off. The proposed budget takes a number of steps in that direction by funding training at 20 schools with the highest number of arrests and suspensions, along with all the schools in Brooklyn’s District 18 and ones that are experimenting with a warning card system in place of suspensions.

The budget would also fund training at schools where staffers frequently call 911, as well as more training for school safety agents. One hundred high schools with high suspension rates would also have more mental-health services made available for students. Together, those programs would cost more than $13 million next year.

Struggling schools

The city is continuing to invest heavily in its effort to improve more than 90 of its lowest-performing schools.

Overall spending for the “Renewal” program is increasing slightly to $189 million next year, and the budget adds a few new programs for those schools, including $1 million per year for doctor visits at schools without health clinics and another $1.5 million per year for staff training.

The budget also includes funds for a data system being used at the city’s Renewal and community schools. That system is designed to share data among city agencies, and cost the city nearly $2.5 million to set up this year.

Other items

Also included in the education portion of the mayor’s proposed budget, which still must be negotiated with the City Council:

  • More funding to coordinate transportation for students living in temporary housing
  • Training for pre-K staff and social workers focused on creating nurturing environments
  • Youth suicide prevention training for education department staffers

Not included

Funding for the summer after-school programs the city cut, and eventually restored, last year.

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