NYC is short billions to comply with class size law, chief fiscal watchdog warns

A man wearing a dress shirt and a tie speaks from behind a poster and in front of protestors during a rally at NYC City Hall.
Comptroller Brad Lander has refused to certify the city's class size reduction plan, arguing the city has not allocated enough funding to comply with aggressive class size reductions required by state law. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

Sign up for Chalkbeat New York’s free daily newsletter to keep up with NYC’s public schools.

New York City has not allocated enough funding to comply with aggressive new class size caps mandated under state law over the next four years, according to city Comptroller Brad Lander.

By the 2028 fiscal year, when the class size limits must be fully implemented, the city’s budget will be short between $1.5 billion and $1.65 billion for the cost of hiring over 14,000 new teachers, according to the comptroller’s estimates.

As soon as the 2026 fiscal year, the city’s planned budget for teacher hiring will fall short by $374 million to $422 million, including the cost of fringe benefits. (Education Department projections for new hiring are somewhat lower, between 10,000 and 12,000 new educators.)

The shortfall in the capital budget is even more acute. The city will need to construct new buildings to create enough room for schools that have little physical space to accommodate smaller class sizes, or otherwise limit the number of students who can enroll on those campuses. About 500 school buildings don’t have enough physical space to comply with the law, city officials have said.

Of the roughly $22 billion to $27 billion in additional funding the School Construction Authority estimates is needed to finance new buildings, Lander indicated roughly $4 billion has been directed to that effort along with roughly $2 billion in additional funds the state has ordered the city to allocate.

“The city school district’s education expense and capital funding plans do not provide sufficient funding to reduce class size as required by state law,” Lander wrote in a Thursday letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul and state legislative leaders. The comptroller supports class size reductions and is reportedly considering a run for mayor.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the city’s teachers union, which pushed for the class size law, said in a statement that state lawmakers “made it crystal clear that the city is obligated to fund and come into complete compliance with the state law.” Otherwise, he said, “the city will have an all out war with parents, teachers, and the Albany legislature.”

Under the law, classes may not exceed 20 children in kindergarten and max out at 25 children in high school grades. Under the previous rules, the caps ranged from 25 in kindergarten classes up to 34 in high schools. The law phases in over time — with an additional 20% of city classrooms required to meet the new caps each year through 2028.

The city is on track to be in compliance with the law through next school year, when 40% of city classrooms must meet the new limits, but Lander warned that would likely not be the case in the years after that. Under the state class size legislation, Lander has the authority to certify the city’s annual class size reduction plans.

“I am unable to make that certification,” he wrote in the letter to Hochul and legislative leaders.

Additional funding for teacher hiring and school construction “must be prioritized in future budgets to get our class size reduction plan on track,” Lander added in a separate statement.

Still, that lack of sign off “has no legal impact such as sanctions or an enforceable order” under the law, David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, wrote in an email.

But Lander’s analysis underscores the significant costs of implementing the state’s new class size caps. And it could provide some ammunition for advocates who have been pushing the city to rev up teacher hiring and school construction to meet the law’s requirements.

“It is highly questionable as to whether the city will be able to comply with the annual benchmarks in the class size law, starting next school year and beyond,” according to a petition circulated by the advocacy group Class Size Matters that has racked up over 500 signatures and was delivered to the mayor and chancellor on Monday. The city’s plan “is insufficient and fails to make the necessary investments in space and staffing.”

City officials have vowed that they will comply with the class size legislation, but have also critiqued it, noting that the state has not covered the added costs of hiring teachers and school construction. The policy may require the Education Department to spend more money on campuses that are relatively more affluent because higher-need schools tend to already have smaller classes, raising equity concerns from the state’s top education official.

“We are in compliance with the law,” Education Department spokesperson Nathaniel Styer wrote in a statement, noting that the city is working with union officials on implementation. “We appreciate that the comptroller has validated the need for additional state funding to meet the mandate in the years to come.”

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

The Latest

Alicia Alvarez helps students at Western International High School in southwest Detroit to envision, and obtain, a path to higher education. But there’s no shortage of obstacles standing in the way.

Success Academy and Zeta Charter Schools won three schools each. But an unconventional middle school geared toward LGBTQ+ students was left out.

Schools would have to come up with their own policies on how to ban phones and would not get additional funding, principals told Chalkbeat.

Critics say Lee’s education platform promotes segregation and inequality.

Critics urge the district to push for more funding — and more spending — rather than cuts.

The location shift comes after the board’s regular meeting room was damaged by a water leak in a neighboring business.