Vox populi

Comments of the Week: Anxiety over special ed funding change

Readers found no shortage of news to air their thoughts, grievances, and gripes this week. Most opposed city’s move to close 26 schools, but were more split over the union’s ongoing offensive on Mayor Bloomberg.

But it was our exclusive stories detailing the acute anxiety that principals felt as the city prepared to yank special education funding that drew the reactions that we’ll highlight in our weekly roundup of reader comments. Principals learned this week they could lose up to hundreds of thousands of dollars because of changes made to the special education funding formula. For those catching up, here’s how we explained the funding shift yesterday:

The new model allots funds based on the percentage of time students spend in each kind of special education class. Students who spend more than 60 percent of their time in Integrated Co-Teaching classes — which mix special education and general education students and have two teachers, one with special education certification — each bring their school $7,100. Students who spend less time in the classes, which are expensive to run, bring their schools fewer dollars.

Principals and teachers helped us a lot with our stories, but we learned more a lot from those of you who chimed in afterward. Comeonnow estimated the staggering mid-year cuts that some large high schools could be forced to sustain, suggesting that something more nefarious was at play:

As it stands right now, some large schools with large numbers of special education students stand to lose $500K in the middle of the year because DOE counts Phys Ed as one of the classes a school should offer to non-PE adaptive students. This is nuts and the DOE knows it. This is just a budget cut disguised as a miscoding error. Schools that have or will have Title I funding will see their additional funds eaten up by Central because they now have a deficit. It is a scam by central on their own schools.

Jamaicanbarb, a school administrator, pointed a finger outward:

The fault does not lie with the principals but with the “I gotcha” mentality of the “Bored” of Ed and the NYSED.  As an administrator of a school going through this very process, we are at wits end trying to figure out a formula to keep what little funding we have to service our neediest students.

Principals told us that special education teachers spent a lot of time this week working to recode how their students were credited, in case funding could still be saved. One of those teachers, Mark Anderson, recommended more reporting on the various computer programs required to keep track of student data:

These discrepancies (I’m assuming you are referring to those between ATS/CAP and SESIS) are one of the most ridiculous yet underreported burdens that a school’s special education department has to deal with, with potentially huge consequences tied into funding, and compliance based state regulations.

Public officials chimed in as well. Queens Panel for Educational Policy board member Dmytro Fedkowskyj tweeted a one-word reaction:

As an advocate and member of the Citywide Council on Special Education, Lori Podvesker has frequently raised concerns about the pace with which the city was rolling out its special education reforms over the past two year. The funding discrepancy, she tweeted, justified her apprehension.


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.