Back to school is in full swing this week, as Schools Chancellor David Banks and famed rapper Cardi B pay a surprise visit to I.S 232 Middle School in the Bronx this Tuesday.

Cardi B, aka Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, is a Manhattan and Bronx native who attended I.S 232 as a youth. She was joined by Banks, Principal Desiree Resto, and Community Capacity Development Executive Director K. Bain. She announced that she’d be donating $100,000 to the school for additional programming. 

“I’m hoping, you know, sometimes bad decisions happen after school, so I’m hoping we could have amazing after school activities, like tutoring or something fun like a music program,” said Cardi B.

She spoke to an exuberant auditorium of students from various grade levels about the hazards of gang culture and fighting, taking school seriously, and how her grades and decisions early on somewhat impeded her career. She said when it came to trying to get into a performing arts high school they wouldn’t even let her audition. The rapper also took questions from and photos with the clearly surprised and eager kids. 

“Even though in the back of my head I used to hear my mother say, ‘you better become somebody, take school seriously,’ I still wanted to be one of those girls because I was very popular,” said Cardi B. “But to be popular [I had to make] a lot of bad decisions.”

The city said this school year it’s tackling the prevalence of dyslexia and literacy in schools, adding more than a thousand new Gifted & Talented Programs in school districts, putting $100 into scholarship accounts for kindergarteners citywide, continuing Meatless Mondays and plant-based Fridays, and hiring more school safety agents and social workers.

The spokesperson for the Department of Education (DOE) said so far the rollout for back to school has been smooth compared to other years. 

Meanwhile, the excitement of students flooding the halls again hasn’t overshadowed the weeks-long legal battle between the city, DOE, parents, and teachers over school budget cuts. Though Adams staunchly refused to call it a “budget battle” when asked about the topic on the first day of school.

“It’s not a budget battle,” said Adams at a presser. “The way the system of government operates is that the mayor presents our budget. The Council uses all of their staff to review the budget, and then they vote on the budget. This is a historical moment that the Council is fighting against a budget that they approved. We are going to make sure that every child and every school receives the resources that they need.”

On Sept. 6, the City Council voted to pass Resolution 283-A, sponsored by Speaker Adrienne Adams, which demands Mayor Adams and Banks immediately reverse the DOE’s $469 million reductions to school budgets. The resolution clarifies that the DOE “removed nearly three times more from school budgets than was indicated in the city budget.” 

“This resolution focuses attention on how DOE implements its $37 billion budget, with its actions increasingly occurring outside of public accountability and transparency,” said Speaker Adams in a statement. “These unaccountable actions must cease to truly support our students and school communities, and DOE must reverse them. The answer to declining enrollment cannot be simply for DOE to take money from schools.”

Councilmembers Kristin Richardson-Jordan and Charles Barron, known for their incredible outspokenness, called the entire budgeting situation “political theater” in a letter. The letter says that the city council body collectively failed, along with the mayor, to take necessary action on the cuts before the budget was approved.

That’s not the only contentious law in education. 

On Sept. 9, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the class size bill, much to the chagrin of Mayor Adams who’s been drilling down about the cost. The class size bill requires city schools, Banks, and unions for teachers and principals to phase in smaller classes over the next five years, starting in the fall of 2023. 

Advocates, however, were motivated by the news. Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said, “Thank you, Governor Hochul, for listening to the research showing that class size matters, especially for kids who need help the most, and for heeding the pleas of parents and teachers that it’s time to provide true equity to our students who have long suffered from the largest class sizes in the state.”  
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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