Valerie King, Ph.D. and David R. Jones, Esq. Credit: Contributed

This summer has been fraught with debate over the issue of school funding, and rightfully so. In the face of declining enrollment, the NYC Department of Education and the Mayor have significantly decreased school budgets. 

However, many parents and advocates see this decision as causing undue harm to communities that already suffered enormously during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. To their point, several schools have already had to make tough decisions about their programming and which personnel they can maintain on a smaller budget – cutting afterschool programs and releasing teachers for example. Yet, what is getting lost in this debate is the effect of the pandemic on student achievement and how school funding impacts student and teacher performance. 

According to the Community Service Society’s annual survey, The Unheard Third, the longest running survey of low-income communities in the nation, New Yorkers are extremely concerned about the effects of the pandemic on their children’s academic career and future prospects. Nearly two-thirds of low-income parents surveyed said that the impacts from the pandemic will likely result in a long-lasting setback for their children’s education. Among low-income parents, a staggering 74 percent of Latinx parents said that the impacts from the pandemic will likely result in a long-lasting setback for their children’s education. 

The fears of these parents are well justified. A national report by McKinsey & Company found that students, on average, were several months behind in math and reading as a result of the pandemic. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has reported that the pandemic widened existing disparities between children of color and their white counterparts. Based on surveys and interviews of families from across the country, OCR highlighted disparities in several areas including academic growth, mental health, financial security, and college enrollment. 

City Hall understands that something has to be done about the pandemic’s disruption to public schooling. We have seen that understanding made real in the form of Summer Rising and investments in afterschool academic supports. However, these investments do not account for the myriad ways in which schooling has to change to support students in light of the pandemic. 

First and foremost, schools must provide increased mental health supports for students. A recent audit by the State Comptroller found that the NYCDOE is out of compliance with NYS education law as it has failed to provide any mental health program for 563 schools. Moreover, there is a deep need to provide a more engaging educational experience by leveraging technology and new curricula (e.g., Mosaic) to empower children. Not to mention, NYC must still continue the development of community schools and expand its restorative justice program all while combatting racial segregation, improving school safety, and supporting over 100,000 students living in temporary or unstable housing. 

All of the aforementioned issues require an increase in funding to schools. This call for deeper investment may seem daunting, but we know that it is worth it. There is near consensus among researchers that increased funding to schools has positive impacts on student outcomes. Research from Northwestern University found that the connection between funding and student achievement is essentially inarguable. 

It may seem a fool’s errand to propose more funding at a time when enrollment is down in a school system that runs on per-pupil funding; however, this dilemma can also be seen as an opportunity. 

New York City is one of the few school districts in the country to operate under mayoral control. This means that accountability is centralized, but it also creates the potential for the mayor to direct the resources of public and private sectors toward the education system. Additionally, the mayor can divest from other parts of the City’s budget, to invest more heavily in our students and their schools. 

Considering the reluctance of the State to re-approve mayoral control (i.e., tying it to reduced class size and only renewing it for two years), a concerted effort to show how this centralized education system rises to the challenge would be beneficial to the mayor. Indeed, creating improvements to schooling in the face of the pandemic would only strengthen Mayor Adams and Schools Chancellor David Bank’s ability to advance their education agenda in Albany. 

And finally, I urge NYC policymakers to think about the broader impacts of decreasing funds for public education in our city. New York City is home to the largest public school district in the country; we educate more than one million students a year, the majority of whom are now Latinx, Black and Asian – people who suffered the most during pandemic schooling. We expect these generations of students to go on to serve across sectors to fuel our city and our country’s workforce and its growth. 

Now is the time to invest in our children and provide the requisite resources to help them succeed and compete in our economy, citywide, nationally, and globally. 

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 175 years. Valerie King, Ph.D., is a New York State licensed psychologist. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writers. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.

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