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.

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

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”