As classes for public school students begin this week, 77 percent of schools will see a teacher, enrichment program, or some other vital element, missing from last year. That’s because hundreds of millions in funding evaporated from the Adams administration’s schools budget, with more austerity to come next year.
For months, these cuts have been the focal point of a battle between the city council and the mayor. The battle is both ironic and supremely strange, as the city council itself signed off on the cuts in the spring. Now, after public backlash, councilmembers are desperately trying to undo the harm they’ve done to New York City public schools, students, parents, and school staff.
On Tuesday, the City Council came back to work a few days early and passed a resolution demanding that Mayor Eric Adams restore funding to public schools, just two days before classes begin.
In the resolution, the city council calls on the mayor to "immediately reverse the DOE’s reductions to school budgets," which the resolution pegs at some $469 million.
Back in June, the leaders of the city council, Speaker Adrienne Adams and Finance Chair Justin Brannan signed off on the budget cuts because they were tied to declining enrollment, a fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. But in not setting a schools funding benchmark, they also handed over almost all the budgetary power to the Department of Education, and the shadowy formula they use to determine individual schools funding. (This formula is totally secret, even from the comptroller and the public advocate!) That’s despite the comptroller pointing out that millions in expiring federal stimulus funding could be used to fill the budget gap. (City Hall told Hell Gate that they have increased the flexibility of stimulus funds so that it could, possibly, be used to add more teachers).
"The Mayor and Chancellor must do the right thing and utilize leftover stimulus dollars available to them as soon as possible to ensure that the social, emotional, and educational needs of our students are met," Councilmember and Education chair Rita Joseph said in a statement accompanying the resolution.
The resolution is symbolic, and has zero impact on restoring the funding. It's a regretful city council loudly complaining about the budget cuts that they themselves signed off on, save for a few members of the council's left flank. All the council's real power rests in the budget process, and they blew it.
So who blinks first? At this late hour, the cuts are happening. When your average NYC public school kid walks into their school on Thursday, they’ll be getting less, in a public system that should and could be so much more—if only the adults in charge of their fates hadn't let them down.