building blocks

Pre-K in and charter schools out in de Blasio school construction plan

When it comes to the de Blasio administration’s school construction plans, pre-kindergarten, smaller classes, and middle school science labs are in.

What’s out: charter schools, classroom trailers, and the words “Children First.”

The Department of Education today unveiled a $12.8 billion plan to add 39,500 seats to the city’s schools by 2019. The plan adds 7,000 more seats than the Bloomberg administration had planned for, using $800 million in state funds that voters must approve. The details are outlined in a revision to the city’s five-year capital plan that supersedes a less expensive plan that the Bloomberg administration put out just two months ago.

“These revisions will help us create high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten seats citywide that will deliver strong instruction,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. “The changes also will add seats to reduce class size among all grade levels — a longstanding and high-priority issue for communities throughout the city.”

The additional spending is dependent on the passage of the New York State Smart Schools Bond, a $2 billion pot of school infrastructure funds that Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants legislators to let voters decide on this fall.

A few of the changes to Bloomberg’s construction plan are cosmetic. The new plan renames Children First Initiatives as School Enhancement Projects, shedding Bloomberg’s trademark moniker for that budget line.

But most of the proposed changes reflect substantial revisions to the department’s educational agenda. The de Blasio administration wants to put its money where its mouth is on expanding pre-kindergarten access by adding 2,100 new seats and on improving middle schools by focusing science lab upgrades in those schools.

The de Blasio plan also redirects funds that the Bloomberg administration had earmarked for charter school construction. In the last five years, the department added 4,800 seats in schools run by charter organizations and other groups, and the city planned to spend $210 million more on that program in the next five years. The revised plan both omits a listing of past charter school projects and turns the $210 million into the pre-K initiative.

Charter school advocates reacted sharply to the capital plan, which does not allocate any money to charter schools. “This administration has a decision to make, and soon,” said NYC Charter School Center CEO James Merriman in a statement. “If they’re interested in results, they will make sure high-performing charter schools are fully included in the pre-K program, including maintaining capital funding. Otherwise, it will be clear that their move to push pre-K is more about ideology than about helping children.”

The new plan adds language emphasizing the city’s commitment to eliminating classroom trailers, and it also notes that $490 million of the expected $800 million in new funds will create new seats that will allow class sizes to be reduced. If the state bond does not pass, the city will not be able to dedicate funds to reducing class size, according to the plan.

The Panel for Educational Policy, which the mayor controls and is still missing appointees, will vote on the proposed capital plan at its March meeting.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.