The city’s financial watchdog and education advocates told the City Council Education Committee on Monday that the math Mayor Eric Adams and the Department of Education to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from school budgets simply didn’t add up.
City Comptroller Brad Lander estimated that NYC public school budget cuts were about $370 million for fiscal year 2023, even though Lander’s office found that the DOE had $469 million that has remained uncommitted and available for from the $3.02 billion in federal COVID stimulus funds already budgeted to City Hall.
“Unfortunately, one of the problems in this debate is that the numbers have been murky throughout,” said Lander during the Aug. 22 hearing. “My office has tried to bring transparency and clarity to the conversation by highlighting the actual amount cut from individual schools. To be more precise, they indicated that the application of the Fair Student Funding (FSF) formula would otherwise result in net reductions of $375 million, but they would offset that reduction with $160 million in register relief. In addition, the Preliminary Budget indicated that $83 million of that $215 million was supposed to come out of fringe benefits—not directly from school budgets.”
Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks have in the past not called the reduced budget a “budget cut”, but instead have insinuated that the money has been reallocated to serve elsewhere.
Still, Lander said, their decision could deeply impact the learning experiences and environments of many New York children.
“Just yesterday, I spoke to the mom of a 5th grader at a public elementary school in the Bronx,” said Lander. “At their school, there’s long been a band program available to 5th graders that her son had been looking forward to for years. It’s not only been a great way to start playing an instrument, but a sign of having made it to the top grade in the school. Unfortunately, that teacher is one of the three staff positions the principal was forced to cut. By refusing to reach an agreement with the City Council, City Hall and the DOE are enforcing cuts to school budgets that mean stories just like that are playing out right now at 1,156 schools across the city – 77% of our public schools will open on September 8th with larger class sizes, fewer arts programs, and/or fewer guidance counselors than they had last year.”
Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) – one of the larger teacher’s union in the city – also spoke during the hearing and posed the question of where the funding had gone.
“I’ve had numerous conversations with both state and federal elected officials who are now starting to ask, ‘Since we’ve sent all this money, where is the money?’” said Mulgrew during the hearing. “Because they don’t understand why there are cuts being done to our schools at this point. You already know and [it has been] well documented in what this means to the school themselves. It’s really starting to trouble me because I don’t understand how this city is saying [this is] not a cut when it is, and then they are talking about future cuts.”
Other educators emphasized how a downgrade in public school budgets would harm students who require special education curriculum and services.
“We have not been meeting our students’ mandated needs for students in special education or English Language Learners,” said Advocates for Children of New York representative Lupe Hernandez. “They continue to be the most marginalized and impacted by these egregious cuts to our schools. Our schools are facing many challenges; student headcounts for next year were grossly underestimated. My district alone had about 15 appeals, and yet we stand to lose over $60 million. Fair Student Funding should have been addressed, and these next two years allows us the time to really adjust this formula that has not been changed since it was created.”
A City Hall spokesperson familiar with the issue emphasized the mayor and his administration’s commitment to transparency, saying the funding plan had been approved for quite some time.
“Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks are committed to providing our students with the best education possible,” the spokesperson said to amNew York. “Every single student in our school system remains at 100% Fair Student Funding. The funding in the budget has been approved for months and was negotiated, reviewed, and voted on by the City Council with full transparency. It was responsibly adjusted to address declining enrollment. Further, we have allocated all federal stimulus dollars to critical programs and needs. We look forward to opening our schools, on time, next month with the resources they need to ensure our students thrive.”
Last updated 8/22/2022 3:11 pm