At hearing, council members slam public school funding cuts, demanding city return $215 million

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Following outrage from parents and educators over cuts to the city’s education budget, New York City Council members are calling on the Department of Education to restore $215 million in funding that resulted in cuts to many school budgets.

Council members joined teachers’ union officials and education advocates on the steps of City Hall on Friday morning to denounce the cuts.

“The DOE has the power to stop this,” said council member Rita Joseph, a former teacher who represents a section of downtown Brooklyn that covers Prospect-Lefferts, Kensington, Flatbush and South Crown Heights, and chairs the committee. board education. “DOE leadership has spoken a lot about the need to restore confidence in our public schools and increase enrollment. Well guess what? If schools lose funding, students will leave.

At a city council hearing after the rally Friday afternoon, Education Department officials defended the funding cuts, which are tied to declining enrollment; they highlighted the changes that are part of the new $101 budget the Council passed — and celebrated — earlier this month. To return the money to schools that have lost enrollment, officials said, other programs, such as the 3K expansion, will have to scale back.

Plans to cut $215 million from schools with declining slates surfaced in February as part of the mayor’s proposed budget. The city’s public school system is down about 180,000 students from a recent peak of about 1.1 million — a trend that began before 2020 but has been accelerated by the pandemic, with families moving out of school. city ​​or choosing charter and parochial schools over the public education system.

Council negotiated the budget with the administration throughout the spring. Lawmakers said concerns over school funding stalled those negotiations for some time before a deal was reached earlier this month. The Council allocated an additional $700 million to the Department of Education, which now has a budget that exceeds $31 billion (it is the department with the largest budget), but the cuts based on enrollment are stayed.

“That was the one issue that hadn’t really been resolved and we weren’t happy,” said Manhattan Councilman Gale Brewer, who was part of the council’s budget negotiating team. She said the Department for Education had not been transparent about how the cut in funding would affect schools.

“I had no idea it would produce this madness of so many layoffs and so much excess,” she said. “We didn’t have all the facts we needed. We’ll get them.”

At the Council hearing on Friday, some lawmakers called on Mayor Eric Adams’ administration to reallocate funds so teachers don’t have to be surplus – essentially released from their schools and entered into a pool to be hired at other posts – decisions that the principals of some schools have already been forced to make in response to the cuts.

Education Ministry officials testified that they had been candid about the plan to cut funds for months and that the change in personnel is typical.

“We’re not saying it’s a good thing that schools are seeing declining enrollment, we’re just facing reality,” First Vice Chancellor Dan Weisberg said.

He added that he expects most excess teachers to be hired at schools where enrollment is up or where there are openings. He said principals will also have the ability to request more money from the school system if they believe their enrollment exceeds Department of Education projections, and that teachers will be able to stay at those schools if additional funding is forthcoming. granted.

But many parents and educators have argued that, given the academic and socio-emotional challenges of the pandemic, now is not the time to take resources away from students. They also say it’s not necessary, given that the city is still sitting on a lot of federal stimulus funding.

During the hearing, education officials said the city still has about $3.5 billion in stimulus funds for schools.

But Lindsey Oates, chief financial officer for the Education Department, said schools need to start weaning stimulus money or face even more precipitous cuts when those funds run out. “Unfortunately, the federal stimulus is not permanent and we need to be strategically and fiscally responsible,” she said.

For the past two years, the city has used stimulus funds to keep school funding stable despite declining enrollment. And it will continue to use federal funds to phase in enrollment-based discounts over two years.

Still, principals say the budgets they have received this year have forced them to cut specialist and specialized teachers, art teachers and enrichment.

Brewer said she had never heard this “kind of panic” from managers before.

“What I’m saying is you have to come up with $215 million,” she said. “You have to find him.”

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