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NY Assembly Approves Classroom Size Caps Despite Funding Concerns

June 3, 2022 by Reece Nations
NY Assembly Approves Classroom Size Caps Despite Funding Concerns
New York State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie.

ALBANY, N.Y. — A bill to limit the number of students in New York schools passed the state Legislature along with an extension of mayoral control over the public school system late on Thursday night.

The legislation to cap class sizes was tied to mayoral control during negotiations, and the proposal passed both the state Senate and state Assembly as lawmakers worked into the early morning hours of Friday. Its provisions would phase in differing levels of class size caps over a period of five years.

With Gov. Kathy Hochul’s approval, kindergarten through third grade classes would be capped at 20 students, fourth through eighth grade classes at 23 students, and high school classes at 25 students. Democratic state Sen. John Liu, chair of the Committee on New York City Education and sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said the plan would bring class sizes in New York City closer to state and national averages.

“The class sizes in the city of New York are substantially larger than the rest of the state and the rest of the country,” Liu, who represents part of Queens County, said in remarks from the Senate floor. “I wouldn’t even call it ‘small’ class sizes, I would call it ‘effective’ class sizes.”

While the measure is applicable state wide, it will only affect school districts in cities that have a population of 1 million or more inhabitants — meaning that virtually only New York City will have its class sizes shrunk. New York City’s public school system is the largest in the nation with over 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,800 separate schools.

Additionally, the deal agreed to by the Assembly grants Mayor Eric Adams control over the city schools for another two years before it is up again for renewal while also expanding the city’s Panel for Educational Policy to 23 members plus city officials. New York City Department of Education Chancellor David Banks warned that passing the legislation without appropriate financing would lead to large cuts for other programs like dyslexia screenings, safety programs, summer programming and support for special needs students.

“If the state Legislature is going to move forward with the bill on class size limits, my appeal to our state legislators in Albany is to fully fund the bill,” Banks said in a written statement. “If this class size issue is so critical to the future of our young people, then we must ensure that the state puts its financial resources behind this bill. An unfunded mandate like this would potentially do huge damage to our system.”

Banks said the cost estimate of implementing the program just from kindergarten through fifth grade class sizes alone would be $500 million annually. Further, Banks contended that lawmakers must consider the costs of building more schools and classroom seats across the city which would require even more funding.

While Banks said he was supportive of reducing class sizes in the city, he asserted that it could not be done without first securing the funds to implement the plan. The bill’s provisions also mandate the Department of Education to submit a financial impact statement in two years and allows for a pause in the plan’s implementation should the department recommend one.

“While we believe all parties are operating in good faith, we also believe the legislation as currently written is not the best we can do for New York City students, and we look forward to addressing these concerns in the coming days,” Adams said in a written statement. “For example, while my administration strongly supports lower class sizes, unless there is guaranteed funding attached to those mandates we will see cuts elsewhere in the system that would harm our most vulnerable students in our highest need communities — including the loss of counselor positions, social workers, art programs, school trips, after-school tutoring, dyslexia screenings and paraprofessionals.”

Proponents of the legislation have pushed back on assertions that it lacks full funding. Liu noted in his remarks from the Senate floor that the state is due to receive around $1.4 billion over the next three years from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. In that case, the Court of Appeals ruled that the chronic underfunding of New York City’s public schools had deprived its students of a sound education and should be remedied through a $4.2 billion funding package aimed at education and approved by the Assembly.

The bill passed the Senate by a 59-4 vote and will head to Hochul’s desk to either be enacted or vetoed.

“New York City’s public school community can thank the leadership of the New York State Legislature … who have heard the call of parents who have been demanding reasonable class sizes for our city’s children,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a written statement. “The passage and enactment of this legislation — which prioritizes the city’s poorest schools, phases in over five years, and provides exemptions when necessary for overcrowded buildings — would be a landmark achievement for this city’s children by the political leadership of our city and state.” 

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com and @ReeceNations

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