Adding it Up

After Renewal program takes shape, $150M price tag becomes $400M

*Total spending includes budget increases for some schools that are not in the Renewal program.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s marquee program to revamp the city’s most troubled schools in three years came with an oft-repeated price tag: $150 million.

But as the “Renewal” program has taken shape over the last nine months, a more complete tally of its three-year cost has emerged: about $397 million, according to estimates by the city’s Independent Budget Office. This coming school year alone, spending will reach $163 million.

The surge comes from federal funds that the city has redirected, state money it has pulled in, and millions of additional city dollars that were tacked on for initiatives like longer school days and school health clinics, according to the IBO.

The latest numbers show that de Blasio’s ambitious plan to tackle the 94 Renewal schools’ subpar academics, as well as their students’ personal needs, will cost far more than was originally announced. They also suggest that the administration is willing to invest heavily in the program in order to boost its odds of success, even as that amplifies pressure on the program to show results.

“Politically, they really placed a big bet on these schools, saying you can support and turn around schools that have a high percentage of high-poverty kids,” said Kim Nauer, education research director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. Now, the question is: “Can they place dollars in these schools and show benefits, both academic and youth-development benefits?”

Here’s a guide to the rising Renewal numbers.

Where did that $150 million figure come from?

Since the Renewal program launched in November, City Hall has described it as a $150 million, three-year turnaround effort. The mayor and schools chancellor have repeated that figure during press conferences at the schools and in City Council budget hearings.

In a briefing with reporters after the launch, though, education department officials explained that the $150 million was actually the cost for just the first two years, and that they could not yet predict the price for year three. Some of the $150 million would come from the city, and the rest would come from state funds set aside for struggling schools, they said.

What is the new total?

By the time the city’s current budget was adopted in June, the program’s expected cost exceeded $150 million.

Now, just over $397 million is expected to flow into the program between the 2014-15 school year and the 2016-17 year, with about $180 million coming from the city, $79 million from the state, and $143 million from the federal government, plus $7 million from other sources, according to numbers provided by the IBO. (Those numbers add up to more than $397 million because they include some city and state funds to boost budgets of some non-Renewal schools that are becoming “community schools” or are chronically low-performing. Chalkbeat was able to separate those from the total Renewal spending, but not the tallies of city and state expenditures.)

During the coming school year, Renewal spending will amount to nearly $163 million. That’s up from just $31 million this past year, an indication that the city has yet to roll out the bulk of the program’s academic support and student services.

Where is the city’s money going?

The city is bankrolling $74 million worth of the Renewal program this coming school year.

About $50 million is set aside for teacher training, principal coaches, extra support for English learners and students with disabilities, and other general services, according to an education department spokeswoman, who noted that total program costs will not be available until Renewal schools finalize their budgets for this year.

Other money will be spent on leadership training and adult-education classes for parents, and on technical assistance to help the schools work with nonprofit partners, she added.

* The budget increases will affect 130 schools, including the 94 Renewal schools.

The city will spend more than $7 million to boost school budgets, and nearly $13 million to help the schools add a daily extra hour of instruction, which will include paying teachers who choose to work that additional time. Beginning in 2017, the city will also spend $3 million annually to set up mental-health clinics in some of the schools.

“Turning around long-struggling schools takes difficult decisions and investments to support real change,” spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement, adding that the city is “leveraging all available funds from the state and federal government.”

What about the state and federal money?

This coming school year, more than $26 million in state funds will be used to bump up the budgets of Renewal schools and 36 other schools that struggle with poor attendance or academics. Officials have said that boost will give each Renewal school about $250,000 extra to spend on things like extra tutors or advanced courses.

Smaller state grants will pay for things like summer programs for the Renewal schools and extra help for eighth-graders who have missed some schooling or had to repeat a grade.

The largest single chunk of funding comes from the federal government: $58 million per year, starting this coming school year. City budget documents describe that as existing federal funds that have been repurposed. A spokeswoman would not provide further detail about where the money came from, other than to say it is “a combination of funds.”

What’s the reaction to this spending?

De Blasio has had to walk a fine line in selling the expensive Renewal program.

On one side, he faces fierce skepticism from critics who doubt whether any amount of spending can improve chronically low-performing schools. Policymakers and pundits who say those schools should be shuttered or forced to replace their staffs argue that flooding them with funding wastes taxpayer money without getting results.

“The education industry’s cry that more money will solve the problem is false,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a speech this January where he pitched a plan to let outside groups take control of struggling schools. “We have been putting more money into this system every year for a decade and it hasn’t changed.”

On the other side, de Blasio must answer to liberal allies — including the city teachers union — who insist that underfunding has caused many schools to stumble, and that their transformation will require a major infusion of funding. In fact, some advocates and experts say the city may need to spend even more on the Renewal program than it currently plans to.

Norm Fruchter, a senior policy analyst at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, said he is impressed by de Blasio’s investment in the Renewal program. Still, he said it will likely take even more funding to make a dent in the schools’ academic challenges and their students’ personal needs.

“You’re trying to change large, historical trends in those schools,” said Fruchter, who also is a member of the city’s education policy board. “Over time, you probably need more investment.”

Spending data came from the Independent Budget Office, the mayor’s office, and the Department of Education. Sarah Glen produced the graphics.

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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