No Money for You

From school sports to free lunches, hearing highlights requests left out of mayor's budget

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
David Garcia-Rosen (left, wearing a white shirt collar and blue jersey), founder of the Small Schools Athletic League, marched into a City Council hearing with student athletes to demand funding for the league.

A City Council hearing on school spending got off to a dramatic start Wednesday when some 100 students wearing blue athletic jerseys turned inside-out marched into the council chambers to deliver petitions demanding more money for school sports.

The athletes are among the 1,700 students in an athletic league that a teacher created to serve small high schools that are not part of the main city-funded league. The City Council had called on the city to devote $1.25 million to the league, but the mayor’s budget left out the funding, so the league’s founder decided to file a civil rights complaint.

“We can’t wait one more day, for one more excuse,” shouted David Garcia-Rosen, the founder and a history teacher at International Community High School in the Bronx, before guards ushered the group out of the chambers. (The education department has said that most high schools already have sports teams and that it is working to include more small schools in its league.)

The Small Sports Athletic League was just one of several education-related City Council requests that did make it into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget for next year. Among the other unfunded proposals are free lunch for all students, bigger school budgets, and restructured school-support networks.

Council members questioned the schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and other officials about those missing funds and other concerns, such as increased funding for charter schools and space for new pre-kindergarten seats. Still, the tone was hardly combative, with several members praising Fariña’s educational credentials and the city’s pre-K expansion.

“Thank you all, I’m actually leaving here smiling,” Fariña told the council, before heading to another meeting without taking questions from the press.

Here are some other highlights from the joint hearing.

Bigger school budgets

Individual school budgets will not budge next school year, Fariña said.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the city was owed $2.5 billion more in education funding from the state.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the city was owed $2.5 billion more in education funding from the state.

The council had asked the city to use any extra state funds to boost school budgets, but that money was directed to after-school programs and charter schools, which must receive more money per pupil under a new state law.

Education committee chairman Daniel Dromm wondered on Wednesday whether the flat funding would stop schools from hiring enough teachers to keep up with rising student enrollments, leading to larger class sizes.

In her testimony, Fariña highlighted new school spending in the mayor’s budget: $300 million for pre-K, $145 million for after-school programs, $23 million for arts education, and $13 million to support English-language learners.

She said some of those programs should save schools money, since they will no longer have to pay for them from their own budgets. Also, the city will soon lift a hiring freeze on new guidance counselors and art teachers, Fariña added.

Still, she said the city is owed an additional $2.5 billion from the state for next year, which would have gone towards school budgets, smaller class sizes, and supports for young students.

“We will continue to fiercely advocate for our students’ fair share,” Fariña said in her testimony.

Free school lunches for all

The City Council wanted the city to pay for free school lunches for all students, arguing that the current system stigmatizes students from low-income families who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Only one-third of the 780,000 eligible students currently accept the meals, according to advocates who held a press conference before the hearing.

The mayor did not include the universal free-lunch program in his budget, which would cost $24 million. Officials said on Wednesday that they worried the program could jeopardize some schools’ federal funding. But Fariña said one option is to pilot a scaled-down version of the plan, perhaps starting just in middle schools.

Service hubs inside schools

Some schools offer students health, dental, and vision services on campus, an arrangement that several council members said they’d like to see spread to more schools.

Fariña pointed to the mayor’s plan to create 100 new “community schools,” which provide those services and others to students and their families. But while the mayor’s budget sets aside $1.3 million for new school nurses, it does not include the $12.5 million that advocates have sought for the first batch of community schools next year.

Council members did not ask about that funding at the hearing. Before it began, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she believes “very strongly” in the idea of community schools, but that she has not yet discussed funding for it with the administration.

Support for schools

Many have questioned the usefulness of the school-support networks, and the City Council called for restructuring that system in order to save money.

Fariña said a team is surveying schools about their experiences with the networks, which she has said previously will remain in place for now. The city also received a $500,000 grant to train local superintendents to better support schools, she said. The ultimate goal is a system where “where one phone call is going to get you the answer,” she added.

Space for pre-K

While most council members praised the plan to expand pre-K, some questioned whether their districts would see many new seats. Finance committee chairwoman Julissa Ferreras, who represents parts of Queens, said her district lacks public school space or local nonprofits that could offer many new pre-K seats.

“So what happens in districts like mine,” she asked, “where we hear about this great program and parents line up at 5 in the morning to try to get the few pre-K seats that are in existence?”

Sophia Pappas, the education department official who oversees pre-K, said the goal is for every neighborhood to have plenty of pre-K options, but in the meantime parents may need to look for open seats near their jobs or their relatives’ homes.

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