Adding it Up

After Renewal program takes shape, $150M price tag becomes $400M

*Total spending includes budget increases for some schools that are not in the Renewal program.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s marquee program to revamp the city’s most troubled schools in three years came with an oft-repeated price tag: $150 million.

But as the “Renewal” program has taken shape over the last nine months, a more complete tally of its three-year cost has emerged: about $397 million, according to estimates by the city’s Independent Budget Office. This coming school year alone, spending will reach $163 million.

The surge comes from federal funds that the city has redirected, state money it has pulled in, and millions of additional city dollars that were tacked on for initiatives like longer school days and school health clinics, according to the IBO.

The latest numbers show that de Blasio’s ambitious plan to tackle the 94 Renewal schools’ subpar academics, as well as their students’ personal needs, will cost far more than was originally announced. They also suggest that the administration is willing to invest heavily in the program in order to boost its odds of success, even as that amplifies pressure on the program to show results.

“Politically, they really placed a big bet on these schools, saying you can support and turn around schools that have a high percentage of high-poverty kids,” said Kim Nauer, education research director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. Now, the question is: “Can they place dollars in these schools and show benefits, both academic and youth-development benefits?”

Here’s a guide to the rising Renewal numbers.

Where did that $150 million figure come from?

Since the Renewal program launched in November, City Hall has described it as a $150 million, three-year turnaround effort. The mayor and schools chancellor have repeated that figure during press conferences at the schools and in City Council budget hearings.

In a briefing with reporters after the launch, though, education department officials explained that the $150 million was actually the cost for just the first two years, and that they could not yet predict the price for year three. Some of the $150 million would come from the city, and the rest would come from state funds set aside for struggling schools, they said.

What is the new total?

By the time the city’s current budget was adopted in June, the program’s expected cost exceeded $150 million.

Now, just over $397 million is expected to flow into the program between the 2014-15 school year and the 2016-17 year, with about $180 million coming from the city, $79 million from the state, and $143 million from the federal government, plus $7 million from other sources, according to numbers provided by the IBO. (Those numbers add up to more than $397 million because they include some city and state funds to boost budgets of some non-Renewal schools that are becoming “community schools” or are chronically low-performing. Chalkbeat was able to separate those from the total Renewal spending, but not the tallies of city and state expenditures.)

During the coming school year, Renewal spending will amount to nearly $163 million. That’s up from just $31 million this past year, an indication that the city has yet to roll out the bulk of the program’s academic support and student services.

Where is the city’s money going?

The city is bankrolling $74 million worth of the Renewal program this coming school year.

About $50 million is set aside for teacher training, principal coaches, extra support for English learners and students with disabilities, and other general services, according to an education department spokeswoman, who noted that total program costs will not be available until Renewal schools finalize their budgets for this year.

Other money will be spent on leadership training and adult-education classes for parents, and on technical assistance to help the schools work with nonprofit partners, she added.

* The budget increases will affect 130 schools, including the 94 Renewal schools.

The city will spend more than $7 million to boost school budgets, and nearly $13 million to help the schools add a daily extra hour of instruction, which will include paying teachers who choose to work that additional time. Beginning in 2017, the city will also spend $3 million annually to set up mental-health clinics in some of the schools.

“Turning around long-struggling schools takes difficult decisions and investments to support real change,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement, adding that the city is “leveraging all available funds from the state and federal government.”

What about the state and federal money?

This coming school year, more than $26 million in state funds will be used to bump up the budgets of Renewal schools and 36 other schools that struggle with poor attendance or academics. Officials have said that boost will give each Renewal school about $250,000 extra to spend on things like extra tutors or advanced courses.

Smaller state grants will pay for things like summer programs for the Renewal schools and extra help for eighth-graders who have missed some schooling or had to repeat a grade.

The largest single chunk of funding comes from the federal government: $58 million per year, starting this coming school year. City budget documents describe that as existing federal funds that have been repurposed. A spokeswoman would not provide further detail about where the money came from, other than to say it is “a combination of funds.”

What’s the reaction to this spending?

De Blasio has had to walk a fine line in selling the expensive Renewal program.

On one side, he faces fierce skepticism from critics who doubt whether any amount of spending can improve chronically low-performing schools. Policymakers and pundits who say those schools should be shuttered or forced to replace their staffs argue that flooding them with funding wastes taxpayer money without getting results.

“The education industry’s cry that more money will solve the problem is false,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a speech this January where he pitched a plan to let outside groups take control of struggling schools. “We have been putting more money into this system every year for a decade and it hasn’t changed.”

On the other side, de Blasio must answer to liberal allies — including the city teachers union — who insist that underfunding has caused many schools to stumble, and that their transformation will require a major infusion of funding. In fact, some advocates and experts say the city may need to spend even more on the Renewal program than it currently plans to.

Norm Fruchter, a senior policy analyst at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, said he is impressed by de Blasio’s investment in the Renewal program. Still, he said it will likely take even more funding to make a dent in the schools’ academic challenges and their students’ personal needs.

“You’re trying to change large, historical trends in those schools,” said Fruchter, who also is a member of the city’s education policy board. “Over time, you probably need more investment.”

Spending data came from the Independent Budget Office, the mayor’s office, and the Department of Education. Sarah Glen produced the graphics.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.