Over the past weeks, I have heard many heart-wrenching stories from parents and families whose schools are suddenly being forced to cut staff and extracurricular programs. I want to explain where they came from and what, together, we can do to restore funding and improve equity in one of our most important civic assets: our public schools.
How the State Budget and City Budgets Interact
The city and state governments operate on different fiscal schedules. This allows the city to adjust its finances based on the level of aid it will receive from the state. The state has a fiscal cycle offset from the federal government for the same reason. The state’s fiscal year begins on April 1 and ends on March 31, while the city’s begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. The state legislature is responsible for approving the final state budget, while the City Council is responsible for approving the final city budget.
State Budget Education Recap
In April, I fought alongside my colleagues in the Assembly to pass a budget that guaranteed an historic amount of education funding in New York State. The 2022-2023 NYS budget increased funding for public education by $2.1 billion statewide, with New York City public schools receiving $475 million more than they did last year, equivalent to an increase of 4% per student. “Foundation aid”—a formula for additional state funding to help equalize resources across school districts—increased by 7.7% as well, with $309 million of new foundation aid allocated to New York City. At the end of the day, approximately 36% of the city’s education funding comes from New York State, with the city providing 54% and the remainder coming from the federal government.
City Budget Education Recap
Mayor Eric Adams began proposing cuts to the Department of Education budget as early as February 2022 on the basis of declining enrollment in public schools. Since COVID-19, NYC public school enrollment has fallen by 9.5%. As a response, Mayor Adams proposed cutting education funding by $215 million this year and $375 million next year. This policy signaled a departure from the prior administration’s policy, under which school funding was backstopped by federal pandemic relief funding in spite of declining enrollment. The Mayor’s executive budget proposal, released in April, outlined these cuts. Between April and June 30th, the City Council and the Mayor’s office negotiated a final budget resolution, and they passed a final budget based on the outcome of their negotiations on June 14. The enacted budget for New York City included the Mayor’s proposed cuts to the Department of Education. These were approved by the New York City Council.
We should be clear: these cuts were totally unnecessary. The Comptroller's Office indicated that the Department of Education has over $5 billion remaining in unspent federal pandemic relief funds, which could have been used to prevent any cuts to school budgets. The Mayor also claimed that per-pupil funding would remain unchanged because the cuts were strictly tied to changing enrollment numbers. This is untrue; per-pupil funding has slightly declined under the new budget as a result of reduced outlays for staff caused by veteran teachers with higher salaries leaving the system.
What we can do
Since we increased funding for education in the state legislature, I have called for the Governor to immediately sign legislation that would require the city to phase in smaller class sizes, which are significantly correlated with improved educational outcomes. The Mayor is now citing the city’s cuts to its own school budget as a reason why shrinking class sizes isn’t possible. I invite you to do the same by calling or writing to the Governor's office. The smaller class size bill is in her hands, since both the State Assembly and the State Senate passed it in June.
As we look forward, teachers and families alike must stand together to oppose any future cuts to public education. I will stand with you, and I will do my part in the state legislature to fight for universal, free childcare; full funding for public schools; and tuition-free education at SUNY and CUNY campuses. But our City Council must also do its part to reject any budget that imposes cuts to the public school system, and any such proposal should be met with fierce and unrelenting opposition from the public. Free, high-quality public education is the bedrock of a free society.