New York City serves roughly 1.1 million students, making it the largest public school district in the U.S. with 31 community school districts. That number is expected to drop as enrollments fluctuate this fall and budget cuts to schools strain classrooms.

City Council convened a joint hearing on education and oversight due to the expected city budget cuts to schools. The teachers union that rallied outside of City Hall during the hearings demanded that Mayor Eric Adams ‘restore the cuts.’ It’s not likely to happen though as the deadline hits on June 30.

“My name is Haley and I’m a D75 student. I have autism,” said Lucas Healy, an Asian American high school student who was with his mom, Paulette Healy, on the way to testify at City Hall. He said that he just wants to protect all teachers. His mother is a part of the Parents for Responsive, Equitable, and Safe Schools organization.

“We are so angry because we’ve told the mayor and the chancellor already that their FSF needed to be reformed,” said Paulette Healy. “This is exactly why mayoral control needs to end.”

The Fair Student Funding formula (FSF) was developed in 2006 and implemented in 2007 under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, replacing the methods previous DOE administrations used. It uses a ‘weighted per pupil’ funding model, meaning it’s an extra complicated way for the state and city to give money to schools based on how many kids they have. When a school’s enrollment is projected to go up, funding is increased, and when the school’s enrollment is projected to go down, funding is decreased, said Education Chair and Councilmember Rita Joseph.

It’s important to note that the City Council does not have the power to cut schools’ funding. Individual schools’ funding is determined by the state and the mayor using “a deeply flawed funding mechanism” in the FSF, said Joseph in a newsletter to constituents.

According to the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at NYU, since 2008 most of the city’s schools have “received less funding than their FSF allocations called for” and for many “underfunding was severe.” In a study about race and schools from Barnard College, it’s shown that schools aren’t funded equally or equitably though it was regarded as “progressive” years ago. Often underfunded schools in low income Black and Brown neighborhoods are left behind wealthier ones, creating segregation among students.

The $215 million slash to schools’ budgets, because of the FSF and projected decreases in enrollment, have been described as devastating by teachers and principals on the ground.
Joseph said in her newsletter that the current FSF model also “fails to account” for the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent federal dollars that elected officials knew would run out.

As a result of the enrollment-based funding losses, teachers are being excessed or put in funded vacancies in whichever school district needs them.

“Parents and teachers are incredibly frustrated, and understandably so. My Council Colleagues and I worked to strengthen city investments for young people and schools, and instead, many schools are getting hurt in ways that are deeply unfair,” said Joseph. “The Council did its part to stand up for New York’s students. Now, it’s time for the administration to do their part.”
Joseph said she was hoping for transparency on the DOE’s part in the hearing and highlighting that the FSF was outdated.

Speaker Adrienne Adams and Councilmembers Gayle Brewer, Shekar Krishnan and Lincoln Restler, among others, got into heated exchanges with the DOE during the public hearings.
More than one person who testified demanded to know why the DOE couldn’t find money for schools with $4.5 billion still left in unspent stimulus monies that got allocated to the city’s reserves. The DOE’s total budget is $37.6 billion, the schools’ cuts of $215 million is less than 1% of that budget, said Krishnan.

The DOE said that it was a “bad idea” to change the current funding allocation or restore the cuts. They acknowledged that the FSF the way it is was not a great process for budgeting. They promised that they prioritized protecting Black and Brown, low income, special education students or those living in shelters and going to school from cuts.

The DOE claimed that Chancellor David Banks was in the process of forming a commission taskforce to reform the FSF formula with the intention of fixing the process before the school year starts. DOE reps in the hearing said that schools still have time to appeal the budgeting process and that other sources of funding will technically be made available after.

Renee Freeman is a paraprofessional at the Academy of Medical Technology in Far Rockaway Queens. She joined the United Teachers Federation (UFT) in loudly rallying outside City Hall during the public hearings on the education budget.

“I’m not happy,” said Freeman. “Simply because being in the classroom every day we have seen what goes on these past two years with the social emotional issues and how the children need the support. With the budget cuts, it’s going to take people out of the classroom. It’s going to raise our class size to pre-pandemic limits, thus hurting our children, and not giving us the funding for the programs. At this point, we need our mayor to listen to us to understand us and not listen to us just to respond to us.”

Freeman said there was a 12% cut to her school in Far Rockaway. She said basically that means the school could lose teachers, but definitely lose programs like art and music. “Normally, that’s the first thing to go, music and the art programs. Those things go first because, for whatever reason we don’t see the necessity in them, but I can say that those programs are very much needed because when you’re dealing with children who have SELs, the social emotional learning issues,” said Freeman.

Freeman said the arts post-pandemic are even more important in helping students cope. “They’ll draw it. They may not talk about it but they may draw it. They may write a rap about it and put it to music to get it out of them,” said Freeman, “because it has helped them, it is a release DOE is taking away.”

Freeman said that the FSF “doesn’t work.” On the topic of reforms, the teachers said that their input should be included in whatever commission the DOE creates.

Greg Monte is a Special Education social studies teacher at FDR High School in Brooklyn. “The devil’s always in the details and we want to be able to work with the mayor’s office and the DOE so that you actually have the right amount of equitable funding. That’s the bottom line,” said Monte about potential reforms to the FSF.

In reality, the city’s budget has a $700 million increase in funding allocation for school resources and programming under the Department of Education for fiscal year 2023 as opposed to 2022. This included $277 million for Summer Rising, $79 million for the expansion of the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) with 100,000 slots annually, and $30 million for the Fair Futures program that serves young people in the city’s foster care system.

The majority of city council voted yes early to the adopted budget. But, that hasn’t soothed the direct impacts to schools or the ire of advocates.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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