Shelby County Schools plans to continue programs with leftover Race to the Top funds

Shelby County Schools administrators received approval from Tennessee Department of Education to use its $5 million left over from Race to the Top grant money next year on ACT preparation for high schools, dual enrollment, summer internships and assessments for students. Other programs that relied on the funds, including its pre-k initiative, could experience dramatic cuts.

In 2010, Tennessee was one of the first states awarded a four-year grant of more than $501 million in federal funds to improve education.  Each school district in the state received funds to implement programs to address student achievement and teacher and leadership effectiveness.

The grant period expires July 1.

Any work beyond the grant period must be approved by the state and U.S. Department of Education, said Kelli Gauthier, a spokeswoman with the state department of education.  Gauthier said additional funds won’t be awarded, but education reform efforts scheduled beyond the July 1 deadline will need state approval and the state must seek federal approval as well.

Districts must have all continuance requests for any initiatives tied to Race to the Top funding will be finalized by the end of June.

“Tennessee will likely file  a number of ‘no-cost’ extensions to the U.S. Department of Education,” Gauthier said.

When Tennessee won $501 million in the Race to the Top grant, half of the funds went to the state and the other half went to the districts. Districts across the state have a combined total of $56 million leftover from the $250 million received four years ago.  The state has $91 million left from the $250 million it received.

When Race to the Top was awarded, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools were separate districts.  Memphis City received  $68,567,000 and Shelby County Schools received $5,310,500, according to unified Shelby County School officials.

When the districts merged last year, Legacy Shelby County Schools had $1,230,300 left over and Legacy Memphis City Schools had $24,921,474 remaining in RTTP funds.

The merged district now has around $5 million left to spend.

The district has outlined four areas – standards and assessments, data systems to provide teacher effectiveness on student achievement, turnaround low performing schools and promoting great teachers and leaders – as its focus areas in education reform, said Shelby County Schools Chief Academic Officer Roderick Richmond. 

The loss of the funds could mean fewer pre-kindergarten classrooms, nine positions in the strings (music) department and three special education supervisor positions, Richmond said.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II wants to reinstate the 40 pre-K classes on the chopping block, but he said “it will be tricky.”

“We used Race to the Top money to pay for those extra pre-K classes and it will cost about $4 million to add the classrooms into the budget,” said Hopson on Tuesday following an SCS board meeting.

Richmond said the goal is to make sure the remaining funds are not used to pay for positions in the district.

“We’ve always tried to make sure we’re not over-populating the grant with staff,” he said.  “If we build capacity with staff, but then the positions are cut (due to loss of grant) then we lose the institutional knowledge.”


What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.