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Adams' proposed cuts to NYC schools come at "worst possible time," critics say

Mayor Eric Adams has touted his first budget as “radically practical.” 

“My administration is laser-focused on fiscal discipline.” he said upon presenting his first budget Wednesday. “And we will make decisions that invest in our city and benefit all New Yorkers.”

But some parents and educators said they are alarmed by the plan to decrease education funding at a time when students’ academic and mental health needs are more acute than ever.

The city will reduce budgets for schools facing enrollment declines by $375 million – although officials said some of those cuts would be partially covered by federal stimulus dollars. Budget documents also show a reduction in the number of “pedagogues” – a group that could include teachers, administrators, counselors – by more than 3,200, though officials said many of those positions are already vacant. 

Schools Chancellor David Banks has repeatedly promised to thin the ranks of central department bureaucrats, and has already asked some officials to reapply for their jobs. 

Enrollment in the city’s public schools has been going down for several years, and the pandemic appears to have accelerated the decline. Last fall, enrollment was 938,000 – compared to slightly over a million students in 2019-20. An education department spokesperson emphasized that despite these declines, the city has preserved funding for schools since the pandemic began, and will continue to support them so that the impact of decreased funding does not hit all at once. 

“Over the past two years, the Department of Education has prioritized resources to schools as they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic,” said education department spokesperson Jenna Lyle. “By using federal stimulus funds, we are continuing to provide schools with support as they adjust to enrollment changes.”

Of the $375 million cut proposed for next year, officials said $84 million reflects “fringe costs,” and the remainder will be offset by $160 million in stimulus funds. They said that the following year $80 million in federal funds would be used to offset an equal cut of $375 million. During the third year of the financial plan, the $375 million reduction would fully go into effect. 

Still, Ricardo Ramirez, whose son attends PS 102 Jacques Cartier in East Harlem, said reducing funding for his school would be “catastrophic.” 

Ramirez said many of his son’s classmates have transferred out of the school because of a lack of resources, and cutting the schools’ budget further would only exacerbate the problem. Already, his son’s Gifted & Talented class has shrunk so much that it had to merge with a fifth grade class. 

“Schools have always been under-budgeted,” he said. “Now that schools have lower enrollment, shouldn’t we play catch up so that we can provide a good education?”

On Wednesday, Adams said he was hopeful that enrollment would rebound as families return to the city, and he claimed his budget’s focus on public safety would help achieve that goal.

“We believe we’re going to get the enrollment counts up,” the mayor said. “We [assure] the city is safe, you’re going to see a massive return to the city.” 

But Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education said it’s the “worst possible time” to reduce education funding. “Our kids coming back from the pandemic are so far behind,” she said, adding she was worried the budget would threaten academic and mental health supports like literacy coaches and counselors. 

Gripper also called the decision to cut education funding while keeping police department funding flat “backwards.” She said that many student activists have been calling on city leadership to divest from the police and invest in education, while Adams’ budget does the opposite. “This is not the direction we thought New York City would be taking,” she said. 

State Senator John Liu said the decision to reduce funding at some schools is deeply disappointing given that the state just substantially increased funding for education in the coming years – finally meeting a court mandate from a decade ago. 

“It’s upsetting given that we’ve increased the state’s commitment to school funding and continue to expand on that commitment this year,” he said. 

Under Adams’ proposed budget, the education department’s funding would shrink by nearly a billion dollars, although much of that change reflects the fact that the city allocated the lion’s share of federal stimulus funding for the current fiscal year, and there is less of that money available for next year. 

“The stimulus funds were one-time resources to help support schools during the pandemic, but schools will feel the elimination of these funds in their budgets in the upcoming years,” said Ana Champeny, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission. “We’ve been concerned about frontloading [stimulus funds]. It’s important to make sure these one-time funds are used strategically to support temporary programs that address pandemic-related needs among students.”

Champeny said she would still like to see a more detailed accounting of how that federal money is being spent, and wants clearer information about how the education department is finding efficiencies.

Agencies should go back and identify how they can provide services more effectively,’ she said. At the same time, “DOE needs to be really clear about what’s the negative impact of the pandemic, what they are doing to address it, and what results they hope to achieve.”

The proposal released on Wednesday is considered the preliminary budget. The City Council must hold hearings this spring before approving the plan by July 1.  

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