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President's Perspective

One step closer to smaller classes

New York Teacher
UFT President Michael Mulgrew

UFT President Michael Mulgrew

As we finish out what has arguably been another of the toughest years in education for many of us, there’s a lot to reflect on. We had hoped the COVID-19 pandemic — like most awful things in life — would leave something positive in its wake. What it did was unearth some of the issues in our city school system that have long been swept under the rug. The learning loss and socio-emotional trauma that we saw in many of our students this year spurred us to reflect on the ways that our system could improve.

There are so many possible solutions to what hampers our school system. But there’s one solution that really covers all the bases. There is one solution that works for every child in every grade, from pre-K to Grade 12. This solution makes parents feel better about their child’s education, makes children feel more seen in class and allows teachers’ hard work to become more effective.

Schools in our neighboring suburbs have been using this solution for years, and they have proven that it pays dividends.

Smaller class size is this solution.

And now, we are one giant step closer.

On June 2, the state Senate and the state Assembly both voted to pass a bill that calls for a dramatic decrease in class sizes in New York City public schools. If the governor signs this bill into law, Mayor Eric Adams and the city DOE will not be happy. But their claims that this bill is an unfunded mandate simply aren’t true. There is no truth to their contention that the cost of reducing class sizes will force them to take away other educational supports, such as social workers and afterschool programs.

In fact, the city has the money available and reducing class size will have a positive impact on all other education initiatives, making them more powerful.

To set the record straight, here are a few key facts about class size reduction in New York City:

Fact: Using the DOE’s most recent space survey, nearly 90 percent of current school buildings could adopt the new class size guidelines today. Other space can be found by repurposing administrative or nontraditional classroom areas for instruction, while the new classrooms made necessary by the bill — phased in over five years — are fewer than the DOE has already planned to build for those years.

Fact: A total of $7.6 billion in additional COVID-related federal support has come to our schools, and the city has spent only $3 billion of it so far. City schools will receive an additional $1.3 billion in state funds each year by 2024 thanks to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s commitment to fully fund foundation aid.

Fact: The total five-year cost for additional teachers — $1 billion — is less than 1% of the city’s current $100 billion annual budget.

Lowering class sizes in New York City public schools has always been treated as a pipe dream. Everyone agrees it would be great if we could bring New York City public school class sizes more in line with the rest of the state, but it was written off as impossible.

Well, we brought the issue back front and center during this pandemic. Our members and public school parents decided that enough is enough. When it comes to our students, if there’s something that we all know will help them reach their potential, we can’t allow those in charge to push it to the side just because it’s hard to implement. We kept pushing.

The New York City public school system has always been a leader among large urban public school systems in the United States. If we set this precedent now, if we show that even in a big-city district like ours we can do what’s best for our kids and their educators, then it can happen elsewhere.

The passage of this class size bill in Albany is the first crucial step.

Related Topics: President, Class Size