A wave of disappointment and anger is spreading across New York City school communities, touched off by Mayor Eric Adams’ recently announced budget cuts: Parents fear they’ll see programs discontinued in the fall, and teachers are worried about their jobs.
While the cuts are tied to K-12 declining enrollment —which has dropped by 9.5% since the beginning of the pandemic — many parents, educators, and politicians believe they will hurt students as they continue grappling with the academic and social-emotional toll from the pandemic.
“These cuts don’t translate to just fewer textbooks,” said state Sen. Jessica Ramos, who held a rally Friday outside of P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens, the school her children attend. “What we’re seeing is cutting a guidance counselor, cutting an art teacher, cutting a music teacher. I can’t tell you what my little guy would do if his trumpet was taken away from him. This is very personal.”
Ramos said she would like to see a budget that is responsive to the trauma that families have endured throughout the pandemic. She also said that, “It’s a matter of trusting the principals and the teachers to know what the schools need, and perhaps making those investments there.”
Adams said he did not cut funding, but rather adjusted the budget according to the Fair Student Funding formula, which provides the bulk of money for individual school budgets. It’s based on enrollment projections, sending more money to schools with high shares of students with disabilities, learning English as a new language, or facing academic struggles.
“We did not cut funding. Can someone put that in a sentence? We had a drop in students,” Adams said during an unrelated press conference earlier this week. “This administration is focusing on giving children what they need. We did not cut. I’m going to make a T-shirt saying we did not cut.”
The city has increased its own spending on education by about $720 million. But its financial plan for the coming fiscal year shows a $1 billion decline for the education department, largely attributed to a decrease in federal COVID funding. The budget passed this week.
Some critics, like Ramos, are angry about that decrease because the city acknowledged that it still had about $5 billion in unspent school COVID spending as of early May.
Teachers have gone on social media to share fears about co-workers being excessed from their schools. Meanwhile, the city may be trying to get schools with vacancies to hire excessed teachers through a hiring freeze of educators from outside the system. A recently sent letter to prospective teachers outlined hiring restrictions for teachers with certifications affecting prekindergarten to sixth grade.
An education department spokesperson said this kind of restriction is typical for this time of the year and done to ensure that they are able to keep talent in the system.
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“We will monitor the vacancy and excess numbers on a regular basis and make adjustments as needed in hiring restrictions to ensure all schools are staffed in September with qualified teachers,” the spokesperson said.
State Rep. Jessica González-Rojas, who also attended Friday’s rally, said she felt personally devastated.
“My son is a fifth grader at P.S. 212, his school has nearly half a million dollars in cuts. Talking to your child’s teacher who’s in tears about losing her job is just devastating,” she said. “I have a district that is predominantly immigrants, English language learners, and working class. So these cuts are going to hit us the hardest.”
Aria Hossain, a junior at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, said she’s disappointed about the budget cut.
“Our schools, as they are, are very underfunded,” Hossain said. “One painful example would be when my chemistry teacher did not have enough poster boards for all of us, so she had to repurpose old student work.”
Marilyn Mendoza of Make the Road New York, a nonprofit that provides social service support to families, echoed that parents are still struggling from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
“We’re getting worried that the city wants to slash our school budgets right when our communities need it the most. Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst were some of the communities hit the most by COVID, where a lot of our children lost family, they lost parents. It’s been a really tough year for them. And our schools have become like a second home for them,” she said.
“We don’t understand why school budgets have to be on the chopping block all the time. We’re just angry and we’re not going to stop fighting until our schools receive every cent that they deserve.”
Marcela Rodrigues-Sherley is a reporting intern for Chalkbeat New York. Contact Marcela at firstname.lastname@example.org.