It’s back to the future with the city budget: Mayor Adams’ recent budget proposal could have been time-warped from the days before COVID-19. With a bounty of federal stimulus funds for education, we have a once-in-a-generation chance to permanently strengthen New York City public schools. But the city is squandering that opportunity.
Instead of lowering class sizes or adding critical staff such as social workers and school counselors to address pandemic needs, the preliminary city budget for the coming fiscal year proposes cuts to our public schools while giving charters a $281 million increase. The proposed budget eliminates vacant positions instead of filling them and freezes new hiring entirely. And yet the city has not spent about $5 billion of the $7.3 billion in federal stimulus money that the federal government allocated for New York City schools, according to a UFT analysis of data from the Independent Budget Office.
Looking at this budget, you’d never know our school communities have lost loved ones to COVID, dealt with their own illnesses and faced the difficulties of remote learning. You’d never know that students are behind academically and our educators and students need mental health support. All of these new challenges exacerbate the existing inequities.
Our school system has big needs, and we should be thinking just as big. We can start by funding proven UFT programs such as United Community Schools, the UFT Teacher Center, the Positive Learning Collaborative, the Dial-a-Teacher homework helpline and Teacher’s Choice.
We can also learn from our pandemic experiences. Reduced class sizes during the 2020-21 school year not only were an academic benefit for our students, but also provided a healthier and safer learning environment.
During a tuberculosis outbreak in the 1930s, the city changed its administrative code to reduce class size and slow the spread of the disease. We should amend the health code again now, and the UFT will be lobbying the City Council to pass legislation to lower class sizes again.
Now is not the time to reduce school staff and cut school budgets. We need an ambitious plan for public education that builds a better future.