New York

As state budget deal nears, what you need to know about education issues on the table

As state budget negotiations begin to come to an end, the implications for New York City schools are growing clearer. Legislative leaders have leaked a possible price tag for spending on the city’s pre-kindergarten expansion, and facilities funding for charter schools appears to be in the works this year.

But there’s still a lot that we can’t know about the city’s school funding picture for the coming year, or about any law changes that will be made as part of the budgeting process. That’s because the budget only gets settled when a big-picture deal that balances education issues against a host of other concerns facing the state gets hashed out behind closed doors sometime between now and the end of the month.

“We’re close but we don’t have a final deal,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters today, shortly after emerging from a budget meeting with Senate leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The final deal will have big implications on New York City, from pre-K and after school programs already taking shape; to support for its charter schools;  to how much aid will be left for its elementary, middle and high schools. Here are the big education issues that Silver and the other three men who head the state government are weighing as they set the state’s budget.

City priorities: Pre-K funding on way, but after-school prospects less clear

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s flagship initiative is to expand the city’s pre-kindergarten and after-school offerings. He pegged the expansion — which he is moving forward with executing even before shoring up the funding — at $530 million for next year. But Cuomo nixed de Blasio’s proposal to raise the funds through new taxes and instead proposed raising the statewide pre-K budget by just $100 million. Later, after de Blasio leaned on allies in the Senate and Assembly to squeeze more money out of Cuomo, the governor signaled that he would be willing to issue essentially a blank check to New York City for pre-K.

The budget deal will decide how big that check really is and how far de Blasio will be able to go toward making pre-K access truly universal in the city. Sources say the final number for New York City alone would be around $300 million, just shy of the $342 million that de Blasio says he needs for the pre-K component of his plans. That dollar figure would allow de Blasio to execute much of the pre-K planning that is underway.

It’s unclear how much, if any, money will be available for de Blasio to move forward with planned his $190 million after school program expansion, which would more than double the number of middle schools offering after school. Asked if the budget would include money for after-school, Sen. Jeff Klein today reiterated that legislators were focused on funding pre-K.

“Again, it was always $300 million [that] was the target for a full-day universal pre-k for the City of New York,” Klein said. “And we’re moving in that direction.”

The city is already collecting applications from groups that want to operate the after school programs.

Charter schools: Facilities funding likely, but what else is unclear

Following a high-profile spat between de Blasio and charter school advocates in New York City, the Senate proposed a package of bills aimed at ensuring charter schools either receive rent-free space in district buildings or facilities funding to operate in private space.

Silver said Tuesday, for the first time, that he’s open to supporting the latter scenario. In New York City, such a move would be a boon to 68 schools that operate in private facilities and frequently gripe about their funding inequities. It would also open the doors to the prospects of more charter schools opening in private space in the future, which many operators have avoided for years because of the funding difficulties.

While it appears likely that some facilities money will be available to charters in the final budget, a number of questions remain, including how big the pot of funds for charter schools would be, what kinds of spending would be covered, and how much New York City schools would benefit.

The state’s $2.7 billion building aid program for district schools, which could be the model for charter schools, has limits on how much of a project can be reimbursed and rules about how much they can cost. As it does with per-pupil funding formulas, the state factors in local wealth when setting building aid reimbursement rates. In relatively poor cities, such as Buffalo, the reimbursement rate is higher than 80 percent, while in New York City, which has a stronger tax base, the state picks up only about half of facilities costs.

A more aggressive proposal, to require New York City to give 25 percent more per-pupil funding to charter schools that operate in private space, which would account for the share of facilities costs not covered by the state. That proposal is still under discussion, sources say, but there is disagreement on the 25 percent figure. It is seen as less likely to make it into the final budget deal than the building aid plan, seen as a compromise position.

School aid: Will the city get what its schools are owed?

In addition to whatever New York City receives for pre-K and after school programs, K-12 schools are expecting to receive an extra $234 million in state-provided aid, according to the Independent Budget Office. In sum, the city projects it will get about $6.1 billion in foundation aid, representing an increase that isn’t currently in Cuomo’s budget proposal. Advocates and lawmakers have continued to apply late pressure to redirect spending into the foundation aid formula, which is designed to support school districts with large populations of high-need students.

But whatever is likely to come through is still unlikely to come anywhere near what New York City is supposed to be receiving under 2007 funding legislation that was enacted following a legal settlement between the state and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. In 2012, the city was supposed to receive $7.6 billion in funding through a formula set up in 2007 to funnel more money to needy districts. In reality, the city is projected to receive about $6.3 billion by 2015, according to the IBO. 

Common Core and teacher evaluations: No big surprises expected 

The state is in the process of implementing two major changes to schools, new teacher evaluations that factor in student achievement and new standards known as the Common Core. Confusion and dissent about the changes led the Assembly, Senate, state Board of Regents, and advisors to Cuomo all to put forth proposals to improve the rollout. (While the rest of the state is in their second year of implementing new evaluations, New York City teachers and principals are in their first.)

Now, Cuomo and the legislature seem sure to enact some of these fixes through legislation. One thing that all of the proposals have in common are to ban testing in early grades; a reduction in the number of tests required as a result of new teacher evaluations; and to insulate students who receive low scores on Common Core-aligned tests from being penalized. It’s likely that legislation enacted as part of the budget process will enshrine some of those ideas in law.

“We’re talking about doing something so that the testing that takes place in april will be less dramatic, less traumatic to the students,” Silver said on Tuesday.

The prospects are less certain for more aggressive changes that only some lawmakers and advocates want to see. Most significantly, the Assembly and many Senate lawmakers — as well as the city and state teachers unions —  have also called for a two-year moratorium on tying Common C0re-aligned tests to teachers’ evaluation.

But Cuomo has insisted that digging into the state’s 2010 teacher evaluation law, which he helped usher into implementation, is a non-starter. That means it will be a heavy lift for legislators to get the moratorium into budget legislation.

Asked if changes in the budget would affect the teacher evaluation law, Silver said “probably not.”

But just because changes to teacher evaluations don’t happen in this budget session doesn’t mean they are off the table forever. The Senate and Assembly return for a regular legislative session in just a few weeks.

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