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Shrinking Class Sizes May Cost New York City $1.6B Annually

A new state law caps class sizes from kindergarten through third grade at 20 students, fourth through eighth grade at 23 and high school classes at 25. To implement the law, the city will need to employ an additional 17,700 teachers.

New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks
New York City Schools Chancellor David C. Banks
Luiz C. Ribeiro/TNS
A recently passed state law to shrink class sizes in New York City could cost at least $1.6 billion each year to employ an additional 17,700 teachers, according to an analysis by the Independent Budget Office released Wednesday.

The projections topped the city’s own estimates to comply with the law, which the Adams administration has repeatedly criticized as a costly mandate that pits competing school priorities against each other for a finite amount of cash.

“Our analysis provided some caveats about how implementation ... may come into conflict with fiscal constraints and hiring challenges,” said Louisa Chafee, director of the publicly funded watchdog agency.

Analysts found the price tag could reach up to $1.9 billion based on the average salary for newly hired teachers plus raises approved by the teachers union in a new contract this week.

The bulk of that money would need to be spent on schools with higher grade levels, where students have more class options and, for example, could not be shuffled between biology and chemistry for their science credits.

The estimates surpassed the city’s own estimate of $1.3 billion, which pre-dated the contract between the city and the United Federation of Teachers. The city will receive $756 million in state funding split between class size reduction and other priorities next school year, the analysis showed.

The class size legislation signed into law last year caps kindergarten through third-grade classes at 20 students; fourth- through eighth-grade at 23 students; and high school at 25 students.

The administration has continued to distance itself from the new law, even after it was passed.

“We were not big proponents of the class size bill,” Schools Chancellor David Banks said on CBS New York over the weekend.

“Listen, I’m the chancellor. I want to see all schools have small class sizes, right?” he added. “But the reality is that the research tells us the small class sizes are not the end-all-be-all.”

The full phase-in of the class size law is expected to come as city schools are in a financial bind.

According to the analysis, the city plans to slash vacant positions — including teachers, principals and paraprofessional that are funded but remain unfilled — by 3,500 openings through 2026. That could further strain the education budget just as the city loses access to an influx of cash for pandemic recovery.

“The significant need for additional teachers will likely require the Administration to reverse recent reductions to budgeted headcount,” read the report, “and while the DOE will also be grappling with the exhaustion of federal COVID relief aid.”

The Department of Education did not return a request for comment on the headcount, but said the law will require “very real, serious tradeoffs and hard choices.”

“As the report describes in detail, our over-enrolled schools tend to have more affluent student bodies and this law will require us to invest substantially in our most well-off schools,” said public schools spokesman Nathaniel Styer.

While over-enrollment is more prevalent in schools with lower concentrations of poverty, the analysis shows, the legislation prioritizes lowering class sizes in high-poverty schools. Only 9 percent of the schools with the highest poverty rates met the class size requirements in the 2021-22 school year.

“The chancellor’s repeated claim that high-poverty schools will not benefit from the class size mandate because they already have small enough classes is a red herring,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters.

Haimson also pointed to potential cost savings from smaller classes, including lowering remediation costs and referrals to special education.

“In any case, the conclusions of this brief reinforce the need for the city to start moving now on a realistic, effective class size reduction plan as quickly as possible,” she said, “and to quickly reverse their planned shrinkage of teaching staff.”

©2023 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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