New York lawmakers vote to downsize public school classes

Parents and educators applaud the passage of new legislation that would dramatically reduce class size in New York City public schools, but city leaders labeled the measure an “unfunded mandate” that could harm other major education programs.

The bills would limit the number of students in school classes from 20 to 25, depending on the level of the class, and the measure has enjoyed strong support from lawmakers in Albany, with the state assembly passing 127 to 12 early Friday morning. But Mayor Eric Adams and school chancellor David Banks warned the city will have to make major cuts in other areas to meet the new mandate if Governor Kathy Hochul signs it into law without adding money to pay for new teachers and room to move. accommodate the changes. †

In a statement earlier this week, Adams said his administration is “a strong supporter of lower classes.” However, he said that if the state does not provide additional funding, the city will have to reduce the number of “social workers, arts programs, school trips, after-school tutoring, dyslexia screenings and paraprofessionals” to cover the costs.

City officials said the changes would amount to billions of dollars in additional costs.

“An unfunded mandate like this could potentially cause massive damage to our system,” school chancellor David Banks said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new rules would limit kindergarten through third grade to 20 students, limit fourth through eighth grade to 23 students, and limit high school to 25 students.

Current rules limit first through sixth grade to 32 students; high school classes of up to 30 students for schools serving a large portion of low-income families — also known as “Title I” — and 33 students for non-Title I schools. High school classes are currently limited to 34 students.

The requirements would be phased in over five years from this fall, with priority being given to schools that help people in higher poverty.

The bill also allows temporary exemptions for schools that cannot make the reductions based on space, enrollment, teacher shortages or “serious economic need.”

Meanwhile, it gives schools some flexibility in meeting their class size goals, saying that schools will have to outline whether they plan to build new classrooms, put additional teachers in a classroom, or “else the student-teacher ratio.” reduce” on a temporary basis.

The legislation does not come with additional funding to meet the new class size targets. In fact, the state will withhold money if the city doesn’t go through the changes.

But state senator John Liu, chairman of New York City’s education committee, said he expects the city to give a recent general boost to state funding for class size reduction.

Last year, lawmakers in Albany voted to increase state aid to schools, finally complying with a 2006 court order — citing large classrooms as part of the city’s failure to provide students with a “decent elementary education.”

“I’m thrilled that we’ve finally delivered on the long-standing promise of smaller classes in New York City,” said Liu.

The city has also received an infusion of federal stimulus dollars, which it has not yet spent in full.

The president of the United Federation of Teachers, Michael Mulgrew, challenged the mayor’s claim that the city cannot afford to make the changes. The union states that as many as 90% of schools have room to meet the targets and that the extra state aid and stimulus dollars must be able to cover the costs.

“That the school system is threatening to cut back on safety and social and health programs — despite these new funds — shows how little Tweed cares about thousands of parents’ calls that their children deserve smaller classes,” said Michael, president of the United Federation of Teachers. . Mulgrew, referring to Tweed Courthouse, the historic building near City Hall that now houses the City’s Department of Education.

The United Federation of Teachers itself could also benefit from the bill. Shrinking classes will likely require hiring more teachers, which would increase union ranks.

Many teachers say that small classes are better for all teachers, students and families.

“Ask any teacher what it’s like to teach on a snowy day when many kids are staying at home,” says Liat Olenick, a teacher in Brooklyn. “It makes a world of difference.”

Olenick recalled a case where only half of her third-graders came to class through a storm. She said students were more focused, their behavior was better, and in her opinion they learned more while having more fun.

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