cap dance

Senate Republicans push proposal that could add city charters without raising cap

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki

Senate Republicans are now pushing a proposal that would increase the number of charter schools allowed to open in New York City without raising the state’s overall cap on charter schools.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan reintroduced a mayoral control bill late Sunday night that would keep the state’s cap at its current 460 schools, but eliminate the geographic restrictions on the more than 130 still-available charters, meaning they could open in New York City. The plan offers a middle path for lawmakers reluctant to raise the overall cap, though the Assembly will likely be reluctant to back the proposal.

The bill amends an earlier proposal from the Senate, and adds new language requiring the city to provide “data, estimates and statistics regarding all matters relating to the city district.” The previous bill would also have raised the statewide charter-school cap by 100 schools.

Still, Assembly Democrats — who have to sign off on any final deal — and their allies Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city teachers union will find little to like in the Senate’s amended proposal, which would extend mayoral control of city schools by just one year and require the city to provide more education data to the state. De Blasio and the Assembly are seeking a three-year extension without such strings attached, and the mayor has said the cap does not need to be raised.

“Certainly this is not the year to raise a cap on the schools when we continue to have questions as to how they’re administered,” said Catherine Nolan, who chairs the Assembly’s education committee.

The bill’s reemergence shows that charter schools continue to be a top education priority for Senate Republicans, even if few represent districts with charter schools. The Senate was a major supporter of last year’s push to secure facilities funding for charters in New York City, and the pro-charter group StudentsFirstNY spent $4.2 million to help Republicans hold onto power during last year’s election.

The proposal reflects the fact that the charter sector has grown much faster in New York City than it has statewide. New York City is home to 197 of the state’s 248 charter schools, and is the home base for a few rapidly expanding charter-school networks, including Success Academy, whose founder Eva Moskowitz has nearly 50 schools open or approved to open and has said she wants to open another 50 in 10 years. Growth outside of the city hasn’t been as rapid — since 2010, just 13 of 103 new charters have gone to districts outside of the city.

The Senate bill would also require that the charters for schools that have been closed “be returned to the statewide pool,” which would effectively raise the state’s cap by more than 20 charters. The bill also puts no restrictions on how many charters each of the state’s two authorizers, SUNY and the Board of Regents, can give out.

That could offer more freedom to groups applying to open a charter school in New York City, since all but one of the up to 25 New York City charters still left under the current cap are assigned to the Board of Regents. Northeast Charter Schools Network Kyle Rosenkrans said charter leaders are concerned about last month’s rejection of 15 charter school applications by the State Education Department, which the Regents supervises, along with recent changes to the makeup of the Board of Regents.

“I think there are concerns about the long-term commitment from the current Board of Regents to charter schools as a strategy for improving education,” Rosenkrans said, explaining why charter applicants might be more eager to apply for a charter from SUNY.

Correction: A previous version incorrectly characterized one of the changes to the mayoral control portion of the bill’s updated version. 

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

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