Evaluating Cuomo’s Education Cuts to New York City

By Caterina Andreano

In the highest taxed state in the country, reducing the budget deficit for the first time in 17 years by $10 billion without raising taxes might seem like a victory. Yet many New Yorkers are strongly opposed to Governor Cuomo’s budget, which was approved in late March. The budget cuts state education spending by $1.3 billion, leaving New York City with an allotted education budget of $6.1 billion for the upcoming fiscal year  an overall cut of $840 million. The cuts are expected to severely affect the New York City public school system through teacher layoffs, an increased student-to-teacher ratio, and decreased funding for specialized and after-school programs.

Mayor Bloomberg estimates that he will be forced to lay off 6,000 public school teachers over the next year, worrying many about what real-time impacts these layoffs will have. “I have seen New York City lose some of the best teachers in the past,” says Sheri Meyers, Assistant Principal at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens. “First and second year teachers bring enthusiasm and warmth to their classrooms, which no training can give anyone. Their positions may be eliminated and they will not be teaching,” Meyers says about the expected layoffs.

Marina Marcou-O’Malley, a policy analyst at the Alliance for Quality Education, an organization that fights for high-quality public education in New York, agrees. “All across the state, school districts have been struggling to find ways to mitigate the impact of these cuts. However, teachers are being laid off or not replaced after they retire,” she says. “It hardly seems fair to balance the budget on our children’s backs and be jeopardizing the quality of their education.

The budget cuts are also expected to cause an increase in the student-to-teacher ratio in New York, which is already a problem for the public school system. The Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded agency that provides free information about New York City’s budget, found that about half of all New York City’s high school students attended overcrowded schools between 2008 and 2009. Though high schools are the most overcrowded part of the public school system, the budget cuts are projected to cause further overcrowding throughout the entire school system.

“In terms of impact right now we are looking at a 1.5 pupil increase per classroom,” says Michael Tragale, the Deputy Chief Financial Officer in the Division of Finance at the New York City Department of Education. “Schools have already suffered over the past few years as a result of multiyear reductions, that’s why this budget will be so painful. Last year we used collective bargaining reserves but they aren’t there anymore,” he says.

Afterschool and specialized programs in public schools are also expected to take a hit. “Schools are having to make cuts in programs that principals view as not important,” says Meryle Weinstein, Assistant Director at the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. “Some principals are cutting or reducing their arts, music programs, technology programs, others are cutting their afterschool programs,” she says.

Many others share Weinstein’s prediction. Assistant Principal Meyers, Policy Analyst Marcou-O’Malley, and Deputy Chief Financial Officer Michael Tragale believe that programs such as these will be the first to go. The money allotted for the year will instead go to basic education first, often leaving meager funding for these programs. If these programs are to be kept, parents and teachers will need to raise funds themselves, which isn’t always possible, especially in low-income areas.

“Local school fund raising and wide spread partnerships between schools and non-profits will ameliorate some of the underfunding,” says Judy Baum from Insideschools.org, a non-profit website offering information about New York City’s public school system. “The bad news is that poorer school districts are less able to raise the money,” Baum says.

These low-income areas across the city are also likely to suffer in more ways than the inability to raise money to reinstate afterschool programs. “The reduction in aid is presented by the Governor as being structured to take the least from those who need the aid most. On a percentage reduction basis this is true. On a dollar reduction basis it is not,” says Rick Longhurst, the Executive Administrator for the New York State Parent Teacher Association. “A low wealth or high need school district would need to raise local property, or in the case of the city, income and property taxes, more to offset the reduction in State support than a more affluent or lower need district,” he says.

Students protesting the education cuts in Albany. Photo Credit: Alliance for Quality Education

This means that regardless of Governor Cuomo eliminating the deficit in the budget without raising taxes, low-income areas throughout the city will need to raise local taxes to make up for the large budget cuts to education.

Low-income areas also receive aid from various non-profit and pro-education organizations throughout the city and count on these organizations to help fund afterschool programs for the students. Assistant Director Weinstein believes that recent budget shortages and cuts in social service fields will hamper organizations’ abilities to alleviate problems that the cuts will cause in these low-income areas.

Some believe that the education cuts will actually work to deny students their  right to a proper education. The Campaign for Fiscal Equality, a non-profit organization working to reform New York State’s school finance system to ensure equal education, successfully won a lawsuit against the state in 2006, arguing that New York City schools were underfunded. The $5.5 billion that the lawsuit won for the city was supposed to be phased into the budget over four years, but has been stalled due to the recession. The stalled funding and budget cuts have made Michael Rebell, the co-counsel for the CFE in the lawsuit, speak out against the budget. Rebell recently wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Daily News, arguing that Cuomo’s recent budget cuts to education would violate the state constitution by making the public school system unable to provide children with the basic education they are constitutionally guaranteed.

“We should have received over a billion dollars more with the lawsuit from The Campaign for Fiscal Equality,” says Deputy Chief Financial Officer Michael Tragale. “We would have been looking at close to $8 billion with money from The Campaign for Fiscal Equality as opposed to the $6.1 billion that we received. We should have received our full share of funding,” he says.

Governor Cuomo, though, is defending the budget, and believes that the education cuts won’t actually hurt students if the schools allocate the money properly. Cuomo is accusing teachers unions, school districts and advocacy groups, of using children as “pawns” to cover-up the fact that they want to oppose the cuts politically.

“The average reduction to a school district is 2.7%. They say well we’re going to lay off teachers and we’re going to hurt children. If you cut the education budget, you’re going to hurt children, that’s their premise. No, I’m saying find a 2.7% efficiency in the education budget,” Cuomo said in a speech to schools in late March. “Manage the school system. Reduce the waste, reduce the fraud, reduce the abuse,” he said. “This is not about a teacher in a classroom. This is about less bureaucracy, less administrative overhead, less superintendent salaries…this is about recognizing the new economic reality that government is responsible for management just like everyone else.”

But Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, founding member of Parents Across America, and editor of the NYC Public School Parents blog – all organizations that call for education reform – believes that school budgets have no more room to cut. “Our school budgets are already cut to the bone. These cuts, unless the city steps in, will be devastating to kids,” she says.

Assistant Director Weinstein also believes it may be difficult to cut from the school budget anymore without affecting students. “The current round of cuts are just going to exacerbate the cuts that have already happened in the past,” she says. “I think community groups and parents are going to protest and they should.”

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One Response to Evaluating Cuomo’s Education Cuts to New York City

  1. Pingback: “Cutting” out on Education « newmediasharieff

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