Capping a yearlong push by educators and parents to lower class sizes, state lawmakers passed a bill on June 2 to cap the number of students per classroom in New York City public schools at 20 to 25, depending on the grade, by 2027.
If signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the legislation would help bring New York City’s class sizes in line with the city suburbs and the rest of the state. New York City has long had among the highest class sizes in the state. According to state education data, 663 of the state’s 675 school districts have lower class sizes.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said smaller classes would boost student learning and improve teacher retention by making the profession more sustainable.
“This legislation marks a milestone in the years-long struggle to bring the benefits of smaller classes to the city,” Mulgrew said after the bill passed in both chambers at the end of the legislative session.
|Grade||Current Maximum||With Legislation|
|Grades 1 - 3||32||20|
|Grades 4 - 8||33||23|
The state legislation calls for maximum class sizes of 20 in kindergarten through grade 3, 23 in grades 4-8, and 25 in high school. For physical education and performing groups, the limit would be 40 children in all grades. For each year of the five-year phase-in, schools would have to bring 20% more classrooms into compliance with target class sizes. Schools with the highest poverty levels would have priority. Special education classes would not count toward the 20%.
The legislation would allow temporary exemptions due to space constraints, over-enrollment, teacher license-area shortages or economic distress. Schools could place more than one teacher in a classroom as a temporary measure.
Initially, the UFT pushed for the City Council to adopt legislation to modify the city’s administrative code to limit classroom capacity as a public health measure to ensure better ventilation and reduce the possibility of viral spread. UFT members mobilized in late 2021 to spread the message through the #OurKidsNeed Smaller Class Sizes campaign. They signed petitions, did informational picketing outside schools, wrote emails to Council members, posted on social media and wore buttons. But despite receiving strong support from tens of thousands of parents and educators, that bill stalled and the UFT shifted its focus to Albany.
UFT Political Director Cassie Prugh said state lawmakers were receptive to the pleas of New York City educators and parents. “Our students and school communities have dealt with tremendous challenges during the pandemic, and our elected leaders realized that we can’t just return to the status quo,” she said. “They understood that our students need more individualized attention. Smaller class sizes are a way to build trust with families and finally address the education and equity issues that have long remained unanswered in New York City.”
If the new legislation is signed into law, the city Department of Education and the teachers’ and principals’ unions would be tasked with developing implementation plans, and the schools chancellor and the union presidents would have to sign off on them.
The bill was met with swift and vigorous pushback from Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David C. Banks. They contend that the legislation would be too costly and require education cuts in other areas. Their argument ignores the fact that city schools have received billions of dollars in federal education funds designed to help schools deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hochul’s commitment to fully fund foundation aid will provide an additional $1.3 billion for city schools by 2024.