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Testimony

Testimony regarding school-based education cuts

Testimony

My name is Michael Mulgrew, and I’m the president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). On behalf of the union’s more than 190,000 members, I would like to thank Chair Rita Joseph and all the members of the New York City Council Committee on Education for holding today’s public hearing on school-based education cuts for September and start a conversation on how to reform the school-funding process to be more fair, equitable and supportive of New York City students.

First, let us begin with the cuts to individual school budgets for September.

There is no educational or fiscal justification for these cuts.

We fought for city public schools to receive $7.6 billion in federal stimulus funding — $4.6 billion of which is unspent, according to the Independent Budget Office — during the pandemic.

We fought for and received a commitment from Albany to fully fund the foundation aid and bring an additional $1.3 billion in school aid to New York City every year, once it is fully phased in.

With such an infusion of funding available for our city’s schools, why are any of them grappling with reduced budgets for September?

School communities are right now planning to reduce the number of teachers, increase class sizes and cut back on everything from mental health supports to art, music and other enrichment programs.

And yes, they are cuts, despite what the Department of Education claims.

Since March 2020, the city has wisely used federal funds to maintain a level of support during the pandemic even in schools where enrollment dropped due to the impact of COVID-19 on our communities.

Why? Because our students more than ever desperately needed the smaller classes and the additional individualized attention from classroom teachers, school counselors, therapists and educators providing joy through music, art, theater and sports.

For the first time, New York City approached the class sizes enjoyed in suburban and rural districts across the state, and the remedy promised a decade ago by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the state’s Contracts for Excellence program.

But this June, rather than continue to use the federal funds for what they were designed to do — help students through the pandemic and the recovery from it — the DOE cut school budgets and instructed principals to maximize class sizes.

The DOE pushed for this despite state elected officials overwhelmingly passing new legislation aimed at reducing class sizes in New York City.

It is not fair. Our students deserve better from us. Our school leaders and educators need the time and resources to plan for an effective school year, rather than a last-minute withdrawal of funding when the city has received enough state and federal funds to avoid the terrible decisions schools are now facing. These cuts must be rescinded now, and New York City must begin implementing the state’s class-size targets once the legislation is signed by Governor Hochul.

Now, let us move to the need to reform how the city funds its public schools.

We recommend a three-pronged approach to ensuring that students have the resources they need to move forward from the pandemic.

First, the city must immediately fast-track overdue revisions to the current Fair Student Funding formula and allocate additional funds to schools that are due them under the updated formula. These funding increases should occur during the 2022-23 school year, arriving no later than the scheduled mid-year recalculation used in the current funding model.

The rejection of the current formula by the Panel for Educational Policy this spring should be a wake-up call for the DOE about the urgency of the need for change. We call on the DOE to immediately implement the draft recommendations of the 2019 Fair Student Funding Taskforce, especially given the state’s recent allocation of full Campaign for Fiscal Equity funding.

In particular, the DOE should carry out the following changes as recommended by the taskforce:

  • Add new per-student weights for poverty, students in temporary housing and students in foster care;
  • Increase the current per-student weights for students in need of academic interventions, students with disabilities and English language learners;
  • Provide additional funding to schools that have large concentrations of high-need students and that require additional funding to provided mandated services;
  • Revise the high school weights to ensure that funding is adequate for schools with Career and Technical Education, Specialized Audition and Transfer students;
  • Increase the base allocation to cover the following positions for each school: Assistant principal, school counselor(s), social worker(s), plus other staff for social emotional learning and positive alternatives to school discipline (e.g., restorative justice coordinator) and school librarian (for high schools).

Our second recommendation is that the city and the DOE immediately use unspent federal COVID funds to rescind the cuts proposed to school budgets for the coming year. Common sense should tell us that the drops in enrollment that the DOE has cited as a reason for these dramatic decreases in school funding are one impact of the pandemic on our city. Restoration therefore amounts to an urgent and necessary use of the federal COVID funds we have been allocated. It is incredibly short-sighted to force school communities that have lost students during the pandemic to cut educators, counselors, arts and after-school programs as well as other resources that parents look for as they consider enrolling or re-enrolling in our city’s public schools.

Finally, the DOE must begin allocating funds immediately to permanently reduce class sizes in our schools. Smaller class sizes, too, is the kind of change that parents weigh when deciding where to send their children, and the DOE’s resistance to implementing the new state law requiring a decrease in class size is a decision that will have negative effects in the long run.

In closing, we feel it is particularly urgent that school funding be sufficient to hire the number of teachers required to provide students with disabilities and English language learners with their legally mandated instruction and classes. That’s true regardless of the total number of students expected to be enrolled who require a particular setting within a school or grade of a school — every student needs and deserves their mandated services.

For this reason, and given the challenges faced by schools with the highest concentrations of high need students, we agree with the members of the taskforce who noted that they were “not convinced that pupil-based weighted funding is the best or most equitable manner for addressing students’ needs. Nor are we convinced it is not. But we are sure that Fair Student Funding should be budgeted, delivered and managed in the most effective formats which give maximal effect to both the education of New York City’s students and our city’s taxpayer dollars.”

A long-term commitment to examining the costs and benefits of the per-student funding model and other aspects of the Fair Student Funding formula is needed.

In the short term, however, our schools need resources for next school year. If the cuts the DOE has just proposed are rescinded quickly, schools that face the greatest challenges will still have time to ensure our students return to classrooms in September that offer what they need to succeed. We look forward to continuing to work with the Council to make sure these budget cuts do not stand.

Related Topics: Education Funding