balancing act

IBO: Tension between quality, quantity fueled after-school cuts

Because the cost of city-funded after-school spots increased last year, the number of spots declined. After-school programs that the City Council restored are receiving less funding than city-funded programs this year.

An eleventh-hour effort by the City Council in June to maintain funding for thousands of after-school spots achieved its intended purpose — but it also inadvertently created a two-tiered after-school system in which only some programs can strive to meet higher academic standards.

That’s the conclusion of a report released last week by the Independent Budget Office about Out of School Time, a Bloomberg administration initiative to streamline publicly funded after-school programming. The report finds that the city’s simultaneous efforts to reduce costs and boost quality in OST programs induced Bloomberg’s proposal to cut after-school spots dramatically this spring.

City funding for the program rose from $61 million in 2007 to $108 million in 2009, allowing the number of seats to grow substantially, according to the report. But this year, after half a dozen rounds of city budget cuts, the proposed budget for the program fell to $76 million.

At the same time, the city had embarked on an effort to raise standards in programs that had originally operated with offering “safe and developmentally appropriate environments” as its major goal. With an eye toward using OST programs to support academic instruction, the city told programs that they would have to hire “educational specialists” to develop curriculum and lessons — increasing the cost per participant by nearly 60 percent. The increase would required the number of slots to be cut in half, meaning about 26,000 children would have been shut out of OST programs this year.

Parents, community groups, and advocates responded to the proposed budget cuts with vociferous protest. A last-minute budget deal restored the slashed spots, using $50.6 million in City Council funds.

But because the council’s primary concern was maintaining capacity, it used last year’s funding formula when it restored programs’ budgets — making it impossible for the programs whose funding had been restored to be required to follow the Bloomberg administration’s new standards. That means city children are attending publicly funded after-school programs that are operating under different sets of standards, exactly the situation the city sought to eliminate when it moved to streamline OST offerings.

“The budget agreement between the Mayor and the Council can be seen as a compromise between creating a more service-intensive system at a higher cost per slot and preserving capacity,” the report concludes. It adds, “Since the Council funding is only for this year, the debate over these goals will likely be revisited soon.”

The Bloomberg administration’s decision to begin mandating that programs hire learning specialists was based on recent research on summer learning loss, according to Samantha Levine, a City Hall spokeswoman. Researchers have pegged students’ regression — known as the “summer slide” — at the equivalent of two months of school or more.

“OST programs have always offered a mix of academic support and recreational and cultural opportunities, but the new model strengthens the connection to the school day through stronger partnerships between schools and community-based providers,” Levine said.

Programs funded by the council at the lower rate are encouraged to follow the city’s new standards, which call for a stronger focus on academic subjects, especially literacy, science, math, and technology. But according to the IBO report, they simply will not have enough funding to hire specialist personnel.

But the emphasis on quality over quantity might have been misguided, especially at a time of fiscal austerity, according to Justin Goodman, a City Council spokesman.

“It would have cost $81 million to fund the same number of seats at the new rate, with what we believe would have been an incremental increase in quality,” Goodman said.

Indeed, the city’s more stringent — and more expensive — standards represent something of a solution in search of a problem, said Doug Turetsky, an IBO spokesman.

“No one was complaining that the current after-school programs weren’t adequate,” Turetsky said.

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

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