Legislators In New York Have Voted To Reduce Public School Class Sizes

New legislation would cut class sizes in New York City public schools, but city authorities called it an “unfunded mandate” that might hurt other education initiatives.

The legislation would regulate classroom sizes at 20 to 25, depending on grade level. Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks warned that the city would have to make severe cutbacks if Gov. Kathy Hochul adopts the new requirement without allocating cash for more teachers and space.

Adams stated that his government “strongly supports lower class sizes.” However, if the state does not provide more cash, the city will have to cut social workers, art programs, school excursions, after-school tutoring, dyslexia testing, and paraprofessionals. Officials warned the improvements would cost billions.

School Chancellor David Banks warned an underfunded obligation might harm the system.

New guidelines cap K-3 courses at 20 students, 4-8 classes at 23, and high school classes at 25. Current guidelines restrict first through sixth grade to 32 pupils, and middle school to 30 for “Title I” schools and 33 for non-Title I schools. High school classes are restricted to 34 students. The standards would be phased in over five years beginning this fall, with preference for schools serving high-poverty populations.

The measure permits temporary exemptions for schools with limited space, enrollment, teacher shortages, or “severe economic distress.”

Schools will have to specify whether they intend to build extra classrooms, put more instructors in a class, or “otherwise reduce the student-teacher ratio” temporarily.

The new class size standards aren’t funded by the law. The state will withhold money if the city doesn’t make improvements.

State Sen. John Liu, who leads NYC’s education committee, expects the city to use recent state funds to reduce class sizes.

Albany legislators opted to raise state financing for schools last year, following a 2006 court decision that highlighted huge class sizes as part of the city’s failure to deliver a “sound basic education.” 

Liu: “I think it’s terrific that we finally delivered on the long-standing promise of smaller class sizes in New York City.”

The city also has federal stimulus money it has yet to use.

Michael Mulgrew disputed the mayor’s claim that the city couldn’t afford the modifications. The organization says 90% of schools have room to meet the standards, and state funding and stimulus money should pay for the expenditures. “To threaten to cut safety, social, and health programs despite new funds shows how little Tweed cares about thousands of parents’ calls for smaller classes,” said UFT president Michael Mulgrew, referring to Tweed Courthouse, the historic building near City Hall that houses the city’s Department of Education. The law might also help UFT. Shrinking classrooms would certainly mean employing additional instructors, boosting the union. Teachers agree that small courses are beneficial for everyone. 

Liat Olenick, a teacher in Brooklyn, said lowering class size is the best approach to invest in student mental health, teaching, and teacher retention. “This is the best way to make up for learning loss and retain burnt-out teachers.”

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