charting the charters

City's charter school spending to exceed $1 billion in 2013-2014

charterchart02The city’s spending bill for charter schools next year is likely to surpass $1 billion, a 24 percent increase that exceeded conservative estimates offered by budget officials earlier this year.

In January, the Department of Education projected it would spend about $70 million more on per pupil expenditures for the growing charter sector, which will increase from 159 to 183 schools, in the 2013-2014 school year. That figure swelled to $210 million when Mayor Bloomberg proposed his executive budget last month, a gap that caught come city lawmakers by surprise.

“I find it totally outrageous and unacceptable that you could be so far off,” Councilman Stephen Levin said at Tuesday’s education budget hearing with department officials.

The total spending plan proposed for education is $24.9 billion, a 4.5 percent increase that includes $19.8 billion — a 3 percent increase — to pay staff and operate schools, and $4.9 billion — a 10 percent increase — for pension and debt expenses.

City officials said it’s not unusual for there to be a gap in projections between January and May budget forecasts, especially when it comes to charter school expenses. Enrollment for expanding charter schools still aren’t determined and some proposals for new charter schools aren’t finalized, they said.

“At that time, we still don’t know the full extent of how the charters are phasing in,” said Chief Financial Officer Michael Tragale. “That’s why some of the projections were off.”

In planning for this school year, for instance, the city initially said it expected charter school expenses to increase by $60 million, a figure that ultimately increased to $112 million when the executive budget was adopted in June 2012.

Despite the city’s miscalculations, the Independent Budget Office managed to make a more accurate projection. In a March analysis, the IBO noted the low-ball estimate in the city’s preliminary budget.

“IBO estimates that charter school payments will be significantly higher next year, totaling over $1.0 billion,” the report says.

The analysis also projected that by 2017 the number of charter school students will have grown to 120,000 and their costs will have exceeded $1.3 billion.

This year, spending is about proportional to the number of students in charter schools. There are 56,600 charter schools students, slightly more than 5 percent of the student population; their total projected costs in 2012-2013, $865 million, represents 4.5 percent of the operating budget.

Levin said the recalculations — this year’s adjustment was a 200 percent change — made it difficult to monitor charter school spending, which is determined in part by the state’s per-pupil funding formulas.

“I feel like by not presenting an accurate number at the preliminary budget, the Department of Education is getting around this committee, this council’s role in having oversight over the budget in the city of New York,” Levin said.

Tragale said that there would be more transparency in the future now that charter school spending has its own unit of appropriation in the budget. Previously, it was lumped into a $2.7 billion line item that includes payments for special education services for private school students and foster care students who have been placed outside New York City.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that charter schools, which tend to outperform district schools on state test scores but serve fewer high-need students, were a valuable school choice for parents.

“Obviously, there was a discrepancy, but the bottom line to me is more important: that these schools are educating our students and that’s the overall goal,” Walcott said.

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.