funds to nowhere?

DOE stands firm: The economy is what caused class sizes to rise

Jonathan is already skeptical of the Department of Education’s explanation for why average class sizes are going up across almost all grades, despite an infusion of $150 million over the past year in funds earmarked to class-size reduction. The DOE’s argument, embedded in a Power Point released today: It’s the economy, stupid.

The idea also bothers Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, who pointed out to me earlier today that the state actually increased funding to schools this year, while the city’s budget cuts came with a promise that classrooms would be insulated. “What they’re trying to do is confuse people about the current economic situation to somehow excuse the fact that class sizes went up in the past,” Haimson said.

The economy explanation first arose in a Power Point released today, and the DOE is sticking to it. On the telephone this afternoon, a spokesman, Will Havemann, said the rising class sizes can be traced back to a cut to schools of about $100 million in October, on top of another $100 million cut to schools in the middle of last year. The idea is that, with less money to spend, principals have decided not to hire additional staff when people retire. Not replacing retiring teachers means class sizes get bigger. Havemann said the city this school year had 440 fewer teachers working directly with students than it had the year before.

He said economic projections could also be behind the reduced teacher corps. “It’s altogether reasonable that as principals see the economic writing on the wall, that they’ll anticipate future cuts, and they’ll be more conservative about how they hire teachers,” he said.

Havemann raised one more explanation: that the $150 million wasn’t actually spent to reduce class sizes. The figure is the amount the DOE told the state it intended to spend on class-size reduction this year, based on principals’ reports of what they planned to do. It does not reflect what principals actually did. Havemann said the DOE is analyzing whether principals who said they intended to spend money on class-size reduction actually did so.

The $150 million came to the city through state grants earmarked for a set of six possible programs, including class-size reduction. The grants are the result of the dozen-year-long Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, whose settlement called not only for more state funding to the New York City schools but also funds that would be directed straight to specific kinds of uses.

The city could face trouble with the state if it turns out that the principals did not use the dollars, known as Contracts for Excellence funds, towards those goals. State and city officials have tossled over class size in the past, and both state and city elected officials have chastised the Department of Education for flouting the state’s intentions with the CFE money.

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.