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 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.