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With New York state’s legislative session set to begin in January, lawmakers are preparing to tackle a slate of contentious issues that could hold serious ramifications for New York City students.
The fate of the city’s school governance structure will once again be up for renewal, pushing Mayor Eric Adams to make his case in Albany for continuing mayoral control.
School funding may also play a major role in lawmakers’ discussions, as some education officials have called to overhaul the state’s school funding formula — and as New York City and other districts grapple with a looming fiscal cliff, with federal COVID relief funds expiring in the fall.
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School safety initiatives, updates to the state’s learning standards, and other legislation likely appearing during the next session may also impact New York City students.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest education issues lawmakers could tackle:
Mayoral control in the hot seat again
After a two-year extension, mayoral control is set to expire on June 30, and legislators will need to decide whether and how New York City’s school governance structure should change.
Mayoral control — which consolidates power over the city’s school system in the hands of its mayor — has been regularly extended over the past two decades, but has faced some tweaks along the way. Under it, the mayor has the power to choose the schools chancellor and appoint a majority of people to the city’s Panel on Educational Policy, or PEP, a city board that votes on major policy proposals and contracts.
A forthcoming state Education Department analysis of mayoral control, which solicited public comments as part of its review process, will be key to discussions of how the city should move forward, said state Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat who chairs the senate’s New York City education committee.
Whether lawmakers seek to continue mayoral control or adopt a new school governance structure, Liu said the city needs a more permanent system, noting that reevaluating it at two- or four-year intervals is “destabilizing for the school system.”
“There needs to be more certainty in the eyes of educators as well as families,” he said. Another critical consideration, he added: “Mayoral control should transcend whoever the mayor happens to be.”
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Though public hearings have featured fierce criticism of the current system, some observers aren’t expecting sweeping changes.
David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, expects mayoral control to largely continue, with possible changes to lessen the mayor’s degree of control, like potentially granting additional oversight or power to City Council members or the city’s elected parent councils.
“It’s hard to imagine at this point what a radical change would look like,” Bloomfield said.
Other large cities have also grappled with their school governance structures in recent years. In Chicago, where mayoral control of schools was established in 1995, the city will transition to a fully elected school board by 2027.
Debate continues over school funding formula
Several years ago, in a major victory for state education officials and advocates, lawmakers committed to fully funding Foundation Aid, the formula that sends extra money to high-needs districts such as New York City. Since then, the conversation has shifted toward how to update the formula itself.
While the state already sends more money for schools with high-need students, the Board of Regents recently called for more than $250 million to revise the formula, proposing to update how students in poverty are counted, among other changes. The Regents have also called for $1 million to conduct a longer term study on how the formula can be improved.
State Sen. Shelley Mayer, a Democrat who chairs the senate’s general education committee, said she supports a cautious approach. She is in favor of funding further study, but hopes to better understand what potential changes would mean for school districts across the state before taking more definitive action.
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“We have to know both how much it would cost the state, and also who would get less money than they currently get,” she said.
Expiring federal relief funds will dominate discussions
Both Liu and Mayer expect the looming fiscal cliff to play a major role in budget discussions during the next legislative session.
In recent years, about $7.7 billion in one-time federal pandemic aid has padded the city Education Department’s budget, helping to maintain critical initiatives like expanded preschool and summer enrichment programs. The funds have also helped schools hire social workers, psychologists, bilingual educators, and shelter coordinators, who have helped newly arrived migrants navigate the city’s school system.
But that money will expire in September, leaving many of those initiatives in jeopardy.
(Separately, Adams has directed the city’s Education Department to cut nearly $550 million from its budget, with further budget cuts still expected.).
Advocating for additional education funding as the state develops its budget will be her organization’s top priority, said Randi Levine, policy director at Advocates for Children, a group that supports the city’s most vulnerable students.
“We need the state to step up and help to save some of these important programs,” she said. “All options need to be on the table.”
Liu said, “It may not be possible for the state alone to make up the entire altitude of that cliff. But maybe we can make it a more gradual downhill, instead of a sudden drop.”
Class size law remains a sticking point
The state law to reduce class sizes at schools across the five boroughs, which will phase in smaller class sizes each year up to 2027, garnered praise from teachers and education advocates. But Adams and other local officials have expressed concern over the city’s ability to meet the requirements.
At a recent town hall in Brooklyn, First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg said the city would comply with the law, but warned that it would “require very painful tradeoffs.”
When asked whether lawmakers will consider amendments to the law if petitioned by city officials during the next legislative session, Liu said, “We will continue to watch this closely.
“It’s lamentable that they continue to hem and haw about this,” he said, adding it was “absolutely essential” for the city to meet the class size mandate.
Other legislative priorities:
- An effort by some lawmakers last spring to reduce the number of school lockdown drills mandated under state law is expected to resurface. Parents have argued the drills harm student mental health without clearly proven safety benefits.
- As the state’s Education Department seeks to further update learning standards, Mayer hopes to tackle how to educate students about the history behind modern-day conflicts. She’s alarmed that many students have learned about the Israel-Hamas war largely through social media and is deeply troubled by reports of rising antisemitism and Islamophobia. She believes schools need more support to robustly address these and other instances of discriminatory behavior. “We cannot have students afraid to go to school because they wear a yarmulke or they wear a headscarf,” she said. “I don’t have the answers, but we’re going to have to have answers.”
- Other efforts — like a universal free after-school pilot program, potential shifts to literacy instruction, the state’s ongoing transition to zero-emission buses, and more — are also expected to arise in the next session.
Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at email@example.com.