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.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.