jaw-dropping

Federal Head Start reauthorization puts city's status in jeopardy

Chancellor Dennis Walcott prepares to read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center in November. (GothamSchools)

New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is at risk of losing a $190 million grant, after the federal government included it on a list of 132 substandard Head Start agencies across the country this week.

Head Start is the half-century-old federal preschool program for low-income children. ACS, among the oldest and largest Head Start agencies in the country, did not meet the “quality thresholds” set by the federal Office of Head Start, according to a list made public Tuesday by the Administration for Children & Families, which oversees the program.

Educators and advocates said the announcement could mean major upheaval for ACS, which serves 120,000 children and families in New York City and oversees contracts for 250 Head Start centers.

“It would have a huge impact,” said Nina Piros, director of early childhood programs for University Settlement, which runs two Head Start centers on the Lower East Side under a contract with ACS. “If ACS does lose its grant, then delegate agencies will be out of business, to put it mildly,” she added, referring to the centers that contract with ACS.

“There’s a lot of jaws that dropped,” said Steven Antonelli, administrative director of the Head Start program at the Bank Street College of Education.

The potential loss of funding could disrupt a new initiative, EarlyLearn NYC, which is meant to streamline funding and improve the quality of the city’s early education programs. This fall, the city required all of its childcare programs, including the Head Start centers it oversees, to reapply for funding. But now that the city itself must reapply for its federal grant, “the implications could be pretty dramatic,” said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York, a multi-service agency based in the city.

“If they don’t control the allocation of Head Start funds, then that would mean that they could not implement the EarlyLearn model,” she said.

ACS is not the only large Head Start agency, known as a super-grantee, whose funding is threatened. The Los Angeles County Office of Education, which bills itself as the largest Head Start agency in the nation, was also included on the list, along with nonprofits and school districts in 38 states. Virginia has the greatest number of agencies that must reapply for their federal contracts, with 11; Ohio has 10, and New York isn’t far behind, with nine.

The agencies on the list serve nearly 148,000 children, according to the Administration for Children & Families.

The announcement is part of a new Obama administration initiative to increase quality by forcing Head Start programs that don’t meet certain standards to “re-compete” annually for their grants.

Head Start has faced criticism in recent years over the quality of its programs, and a federal study last year found that academic gains made by children in the program disappear in elementary school. Many Head Start grantees have received federal funding for decades with little turnover in providers, except when serious safety or financial concerns have arisen.

“Providing robust, open competition for Head Start funding will not only provide opportunities for new organizations to offer services, but it also increases the number of low-income children in high-quality care,” Yvette Sanchez Fuentes, the director for the Office of Head Start, said in a statement.

Officials at both ACS and the Los Angeles County Office of Education said the reasons they had been included on the list had nothing to do with the quality of their programs, however. In ACS’s case, the federal government, in a 2009 audit, flagged the program for “administrative deficiencies” that had to do with healthcare insurance for workers at Head Start centers.

In Los Angeles, interim Head Start director Keesha Woods said that the Office of Head Start had audited the agency in search of fraud last year. Although no fraud was discovered, the agency was cited for “inconsistencies” in how its two dozen subcontractor agencies filled out paperwork.

W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, questioned the method that the federal government used to measure the quality of agencies. “I think the weak point really is that they’re not using direct measures of children’s gains as one of the criteria for deciding who needs to be re-competed,” he said.

Michael Fagan, an ACS spokesperson, said the agency would reapply for its grant: “We remain proud of the Head Start services we provide to children and look forward to being successful in the process.”

It’s unclear who might apply to compete with large agencies like the ones in New York and Los Angeles. More competition could provide openings for companies like New York City-based Acelero Learning, the first large-scale for-profit to run Head Start centers.

Steven Antonelli of Bank Street said the competition could provide opportunities for smaller agencies, like his own, to apply directly to the federal government for funding. Although he said the competition could create chaos as local agencies seek funding under the EarlyLearn NYC program while also trying to get their own federal grants, the news is “exciting,” he said.

“We’ve wanted to have a direct grant for a long time,” he said. “This is a huge opportunity.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

 

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 [email protected]

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