Years of budget cuts have slashed academic programs, increased class sizes, and shortchanged teachers of classroom supplies, according to results of a survey conducted by the United Federation of Teachers.
The cuts hit after-school programs and elementary class sizes particularly hard, according to the survey’s findings, which were compiled from anecdotal accounts from UFT chapter leaders at more than half of the city’s roughly 1,700 schools.
The city’s budget environment has been grim since the start of the economic recession in 2008. As the city’s costliest agency, the Department of Education – and especially its individual school budgets – has shouldered a hefty burden of the cuts. This year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cut school budgets by an average of 2.4 percent, or $178 million. That followed 4 percent cuts in 2010.
The survey confirms what the UFT had already known – and what the DOE had already had acknowledged – about class sizes: They are up. In September, a UFT study reported that 7,000 classes citywide were too crowded.
Three out of four elementary schools reported that class sizes were on the rise, with some classes increasing by more than 10 students, according to one anecdote.
“We’re used to 18-21 students in a class. Now we’re at 31 and 34, with 28 in a kindergarten class,” a chapter leader from Mosaic Preparatory Academy in East Harlem replied on the school’s questionnaire.
More than 60 percent of all schools in the survey reported that after-school programs had been cut. The survey also documented significant drops in spending on textbooks and instructional supplies.
The survey was intended to put a microscope on how the cuts were affecting school operations and pressured elected officials to put an end to the cuts, according to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who presented the results at a press conference today.
Standing outside P.S. 1 in Chinatown, surrounded by some of the school’s parents and teachers, Mulgrew said students were “being hammered” by the cuts.
“What we are hoping today is that all city, state, and elected officials understand what these cuts are doing to the children,” he said.
City and DOE officials have blamed the smaller budgets on state-level cuts. Last year, the city lost $812 million in state education funding and $853 million in federal funding.
Responding to Mulgrew, DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz suggested he spend more time in Albany pressuring legislators to restore those cuts this year.
“Last year he stepped aside and remained silent, and the result was massive cuts in state and federal funding we couldn’t fully cover,” Ravitz said in a statement.
“We’re glad Mr. Mulgrew now understands that budget cuts have a real impact on students, and we can only hope that this year, he makes a clear statement to Albany that they must not cut our education funding again,” Ravitz added.
Much of the UFT’s budget advocacy last year focused on Mayor Bloomberg’s threat to lay off more than 6,000 teachers, a threat made before state budget cuts were announced.
Walcott has already projected another 2 percent in cuts to next year’s DOE budget. In a series of public statements, Walcott said he expects the DOE’s central administration to sustain the majority of the cuts.