New York City principals and advocates fear that school budget cuts to the tune of $215 million will make it impossible to afford smaller class sizes next year — just as a bill in Albany has made that reform a priority.
Slashed public school budgets have raised worries about how to pay for new teachers — and even retain current staff — in order to comply with class size caps recently passed by the state legislature.
“Class sizes will inevitably increase if these devastating cuts are enacted,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters.
The shrunken allocations tie school budgets across the city to enrollment for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public schools have lost an estimated 120,000 students over the last five years — and have also seen average class sizes reduced as a result during that same period.
But Haimson predicted next school year’s budgets would reverse that trend.
“It will be impossible for the DOE to comply with the new state law. In fact, these cuts are like the Mayor and the Chancellor thumbing their nose at the State Legislature,” she said.
Haimson also noted that the city foresees a loss of about 1,500 teaching positions next year, and more than 3,000 after that.
Overall city funding for schools has been reduced primarily due to lower enrollment, a spokesperson for City Hall told The Post.
Kindergarten through third grade classes have averaged around 21.2 students this school year, compared to 23.8 students before the pandemic, according to data compiled by Haimson’s advocacy group. The averages in grades four through eight have also fallen to 23.8 in 2021-22 from 26.5 in 2019-20; and 24.7 in high school from 26.4 students.
A principal in Brooklyn told The Post that his school will have to reduce staff by at least one or two teachers, in responding to the budget.
“Also I don’t know if I’m going to have any money for supplies throughout the year or for students to go on trips,” said the administrator, who added the DOE is encouraging more field trips.
The initial cuts total $375 million, but to soften the shock to city schools this budget season, some of that loss was backfilled with $160 million in federal stimulus funds, The Post has reported.
The stimulus funds that are partially filling in the budget gaps are slated to expire within the next couple of years.
“Educators and parents fought for federal funds to stabilize schools as we moved through the pandemic,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “This additional funding was supposed to hold schools harmless.”
Education officials have warned that enrollment declines can also lead to service and program cuts, testifying at City Council budget hearings to that effect.
City Hall spent much of last week warning of the fiscal impact of the class size bill on other education programs, from school safety measures to dyslexia screenings.
On Friday, Mayor Eric Adams changed his tone, saying that he was “optimistic” about a shared goal of smaller class sizes.