Last year was a fraught time for education and the city’s schools, especially due to an early budgeting battle between the City Council and Mayor Eric Adams. Here’s a recap of the problems that remain as 2023 begins.

“The state of New York City public schools in our opinion is at a precipice,” said Natasha Capers, parent organizer and coordinator for the Coalition for Educational Justice. “We are at a real clear choice point of will we do what is right by public school students and invest in them, and their education, their mental health and their future, or will we abandon them completely.”

Adams and the City Council agreed to an adopted budget early. It received almost immediate backlash over cuts to schools. The $215 million slash to school budgets was based on expected enrollment drops last fall and the failed Fair Student Funding (FSF) initiative. 

By June, the City Council, chaired by Councilmember Gale Brewer and Councilmember Rita Joseph, convened a joint hearing while parents, teachers and advocates rallied for the mayor to restore the cuts made to schools’ budget. A few went on to file a joint lawsuit against the city to get a temporary restraining order that prohibits cuts to the budget. Eventually, the lawsuit was overturned. 

At the time of the legal back and forth, the city had no way of accounting for the impending asylum-seeker crisis that lasted for several months and introduced thousands of migrant children into the school system, straining financial and educational resources. “We need strong parent engagement,” said Capers about helping migrant families deal with the city’s public schools. “We need folks on the ground who speak the families’ languages, who understand the system and can help them navigate at every point.”

Capers said she hoped that the 2023 budgeting season would see more investment in schools and no “deep cuts.”

In addition, the City Council said school bus delays are “worse than they have been in five years” and that there are “millions of dollars in delayed payments to early childhood education providers.” 

An analysis of September and October 2022 by the council conducted found 22,347 bus delays that lasted an average of 40 minutes. Special education students, who rely on transportation even more than others, had a higher average delay of 45 minutes compared to general education students. In a joint hearing about education and transportation in November, the council examined school bus delays, safety issues on bus rides, increased transportation needs for students with special needs and in temporary housing, staffing gaps, and poor communication with schools and caregivers.

“Special education students—we have to do right by them. We have to do better. We have to invest in them, making sure they have their services, smaller class sizes and qualified teachers,” said Capers.

The City Council received complaints about unreliable payments to early childhood education providers. The Department of Education (DOE) agreed to resolve the issue and support those programs. The council also passed a legislative package for more affordable child care services, which usually double for many Black and brown families as early childhood education facilities for their children.

On a lighter note, the city invested in Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) programs and secured more slots for youth workers; called for more support for English Language Learners (ELLs); and launched CUNY Reconnect, a pathway for returning adult students.

Elected officials voted to extend mayoral control over the school system for another two years, much to the dismay of advocates. Governor Kathy Hochul and state officials have promised to fully fund efforts to reevaluate the FSF formula, which determines how school districts receive money from the state. Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics 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://bit.ly/amnews1.

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