Eric Adams commits $500 million to partially avert fiscal cliff for NYC schools

A man in a suit with a red tie stands at a podium smiling next to a man in a suit with a blue tie.
Schools Chancellor David Banks (left) with Mayor Eric Adams at P.S. 34 in Manhattan's East Village announcing roughly $500 million in city and state funds to plug gaps for school programs left by expiring federal COVID relief dollars. (Alex Zimmerman/Chalkbeat)

Mayor Eric Adams is cobbling together more than $500 million in city and state funding to plug a hole in the Education Department’s budget left by the federal COVID relief funding that’s expiring this year, he announced on Friday.

The money will prop up a range of education programs that were set to be cut because of the disappearing federal dollars, including hundreds of social workers, an expansion of free preschool for 3-year-olds, and new staffers working in homeless shelters.

By far, this marks the city’s largest commitment to date to replace the dwindling pandemic aid. Adams previously found $80 million to continue funding Summer Rising, the city’s summer school and recreation program, for one year.

Adams indicated that the city was able to restore programs through a variety of funding sources, and he credited the city’s “strong fiscal management” and “booming” economy.

“We are sticking our fingers in the cushions of our couches, finding every quarter we can find,” Adams said at a press conference Friday at P.S. 34 in the East Village, flanked by City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, D-Queens, and schools Chancellor David Banks.

“We won’t be relying on temporary funds,” he added. “You can’t have a ‘cross your finger’ government and hope for the best.”

The announcement came as city officials were pushing state legislators to finalize a deal extending mayoral control of city schools, a major priority for Adams.

The city received more than $7 billion in one-time federal education funds during the pandemic and is spending roughly $1 billion of those dollars this school year on ongoing initiatives that ran the risk of being cut when the federal aid expired this summer.

The $514 million dollar commitment will temporarily stave off some of those cuts for another year, while making longer-term investments in other programs. It won’t, however, cover the entire $1 billion fiscal cliff set to hit this summer, meaning significant cuts are still expected.

The final, adopted budget agreement between the City Council and Adams isn’t due until June 30, leaving time for changes.

Still, Council Speaker Adams, who has sparred with her former Bayside High School classmate Mayor Adams in recent months over budget cuts to schools, libraries, and more, struck a celebratory note Friday.

“If I could still do backflips like when we were in high school, this would be the moment,” she said.

15 programs get new sources of funding

City officials committed to new funding for a total of 15 programs currently funded by federal aid.

The initiatives that will get committed city funding for more than one year include: roughly 450 social workers and 60 school psychologists; dozens of school staffers who work with families in homeless shelters; 113 new community schools that partner with nonprofits to provide extra services to families; new internship and career preparation programs in high schools and new literacy initiatives, including Banks’s signature NYC Reads program and dyslexia screening, according to city officials.

The city will also give multiple years of dedicated funding to bilingual education programs, an expansion of the Public Schools Athletic League, and translation and interpretation services.

Several other big-ticket education programs funded by federal pandemic aid will get city funding for next year, but don’t have committed funding in future years.

Those programs include: A roughly $92 million expansion of 3-K, the city’s free preschool program for 3-year-olds; additional arts programs; the Learn To Work program that supports students at risk of dropping out; the Project Pivot program partnering schools with community organizations to reduce violence; and money to support the city’s “Affinity” high schools, which receive support from outside organizations like the Urban Assembly.

Adams has been dogged by criticism for scaling back proposed expansions to the city’s early childhood system, including former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to offer universal pre-K for 3-year-olds — a plan that relied on the one-time funds. Adams said the city will spend $5 million on outreach efforts for prekindergarten and 3-K as thousands of seats remain unfilled, and $8 million will go toward improving a portal for families applying for child care vouchers.

But officials have only committed to funding the 3-K expansion for one additional year.

“Our goal is to look for ways to fund it in the long term,” said Jacques Jiha, the city’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. For his part, Adams vowed that all families who want a 3-K seat will have access to one.

The city has also not reversed $170 million in cuts to early childhood education enacted in earlier versions of Adams’ budget.

Rebecca Bailin, the executive director of New Yorker United for Childcare, a group lobbying for expanded 3-K and pre-K, said the mayor’s decision “is a step in the right direction,” but “falls entirely short of the investment and infrastructure needed to fund a truly universal 3-K and pre-K.”

The city will also commit $56 million to increase the pay for providers of special education pre-K programs, which have long struggled to adequately pay staff and have seen major seat shortages as a result. Though that amount is less than the roughly $96 million in federal pandemic aid the city spent on special education pre-K this year, the city is separately committing $25 million for special education pre-K to create classes and help provide services in district schools such as speech and occupational therapy in an effort to rely less heavily on outside providers.

Adams had previously vowed to offer a pre-K special education seat for every child who needed one, which is required by law, but the city has still failed to provide seats for hundreds of students.

Cuts still ahead

New York City’s efforts to ease the impact of the fiscal cliff have been far more successful than other municipalities, according to Banks.

“Across the country, school districts are taking very painful measures to adjust to the loss of their stimulus funding,” Banks said, citing layoffs in Washington D.C., Houston, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. ”New York City has not laid off any staff, and there has been no reduction to school budgets.”

But there are still painful cuts likely ahead.

Among the items covered by stimulus money that city officials did not commit to propping up is $175 million in “hold harmless” funds to prop up the budgets of schools that lost enrollment during the pandemic. School budgets are usually tied to enrollment, but officials paused that practice during the pandemic and have been gradually phasing it back in.

That money went directly into the budgets of nearly 600 schools, with some receiving as much as $1.7 million more than they would have this school year.

Advocates for Children, a group that works with low-income families, has mounted an aggressive campaign to convince city officials to restore expiring federal dollars, and largely celebrated the mayor’s announcement.

Still, the organization pointed to some programs that remain in limbo, including restorative justice programs that offer alternatives to suspensions, some mental health supports, and an initiative that provides subsidized child care to undocumented families.

“Students and their families rely on these programs, and we cannot afford to lose them,” wrote Kim Sweet, the group’s executive director.

Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at melsen-rooney@chalkbeat.org.

Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Alex at azimmerman@chalkbeat.org.


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