after hours

New details on after-school expansion include higher per-student costs

The city finally got specific about its plans to expand after-school programs for middle schoolers today.

A report released by the mayor’s office provides the first glimpse into how the city wants to spend $190 million more on after-school programs, and its per-student cost estimates indicate that the plan has undergone significant shifts over the last few months. Those figures are likely to take center stage when Mayor Bill de Blasio heads to Albany tomorrow to lobby lawmakers to allow a tax increase to pay for his ambitious education initiatives.

“This is not a small undertaking, it’s not a pilot project, it’s not a boutique effort for only a few schools,” de Blasio said today. “This is system-wide change.”

The total funding estimate for de Blasio’s plan to expand pre-kindergarten and the after-school programs has remained steady since he was on the campaign trail: $530 million per year, or what he estimated that a tax increase on the city’s highest earners would raise. 

But some aspects of the after-school plan have clearly been in flux since January, when the mayor’s press secretary told NY1 that the program’s estimated cost was $1,600 per student. Today’s plan estimated the cost of each new after-school seat at $3,000.

“At $3,000 per program slot, more programs will be allowed to hire certified teachers to serve as educational specialists and to retain more highly educated and experienced activity specialists – such as professional artists and graduate students in science – who can be paired with youth workers to offer engaging, project-based learning activities,” the report says.

While the mayor’s pre-K was spelled out in a lengthy implementation plan and a follow-up “progress report” last week, the after-school plan has so far been thin on those kinds of details. The pre-K initiative will be even more costly and requires overcoming larger logistical hurdles in school buildings across the city.

But what the after-school plan will require—in addition to $190 million—is input and resources from middle schools themselves, according to the report. Principals will be required to contribute to the programs at their school through “in-kind donations” of curriculum materials and potentially teachers’ time.

“Working together, principals and middle school teachers will help after-school staff, including education specialists, to align programming with school-day instruction and assist participants with their transitions from one grade to the next and to high school,” the report says.

De Blasio’s plan calls for every middle school in the city to offer the after-school programs, more than doubling the number of schools offering those programs. Charter schools with middle schools will be eligible for additional after-school programming if they don’t already have extended-day programs.

Programs will be required to operate for nine hours each week for 36 weeks of the school year, and 60 percent of students’ time must be spent in structured activities like dance, sports, literacy or science-related activities, or community service projects. (The unstructured time can also include recreation and homework help.) That structure and cost per student aligns with the city’s Middle School Quality Initiative extended day program.

One challenge the middle-school program shares with the pre-K expansion will be evening out the quality among programs. The city’s after-school programs already vary widely in their funding and their use of certified teachers and subject-area experts.

The report notes that many high-quality after-school programs currently do their own fundraising to supplement city funds, and the $3,000 price tag will pay for a more equitable system with more certified teachers.

On Monday, de Blasio said programs will be evaluated by academic measures like improvements in students’ homework completion, class grades, and test scores, as well as non-academic measures like school attendance and students’ engagement in the activities.

The report also quantified how many after-school seats are already being funded by the city: just over 45,000 in 239 schools. The city’s plan will bring that total number of seats to over 95,000, with the $190 million covering the increase, not the entire cost of the city’s after-school programs.

We’ve embedded the whole report below.

Patrick Wall contributed reporting. 

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.