After facing a firestorm of criticism for budget cuts to schools last summer, Mayor Eric Adams appears to be backing down from his plans to reduce funding for schools because of declining enrollment, at least for now.
However, his preliminary budget released Thursday would spend less on the city’s Department of Education overall next year compared to this year.
Adams administration officials said the reduction comes largely from declining federal stimulus funds and savings from eliminating vacant positions. The administration is also scaling back plans to expand free preschool programs for 3-year-olds.
On the other side of the ledger, the mayor said he wants to invest in door locks and other “security measures” at school buildings.
In terms of the enrollment-based reductions, Adams said he had added back millions of dollars he had initially planned to cut in an effort to “rightsize” funding at schools that have seen their registers shrink.
Some high school students planned a rally outside City Hall Thursday in a protest against last year’s budget cuts – and to oppose any more the mayor might propose. Adams said he heard them.
“We believe we've done some great things around education and we'll continue to do so,” he said.
But the fact that the mayor is proposing less funding for the education department next year than the city is spending this year has sparked concern.
The mayor’s financial plan calls for spending approximately $30.7 billion on the Department of Education in Fiscal Year 2024, which begins in July, a decrease of half a billion dollars from the $31.2 the city is estimated to spend on the education department this fiscal year.
The financial plan must be approved by City Council, and multiple council members have already said they oppose cuts to education, as well as those planned for libraries and nonprofits.
Specifically, council members have already pushed back against the administration’s plans for 3K, saying the Adams administration should move forward with former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration’s plans to expand the free preschool programs.
But de Blasio had said the expansion would be paid for by federal stimulus funding. Given that funding will run out, Adams administration officials said the plan now is to hold funding for 3K steady: instead of increasing the number of seats, the education department is working on redistributing the seats to better match demand.
“The budget vision put forward by the administration to cut funding for CUNY, libraries, social services, early childhood education, and other essential services for New Yorkers is one this Council cannot support,” Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Finance Chair Justin Brannan said.
The City Council will hold hearings on the budget through the spring, and must vote on an agreement by the end of June.
Advocates said they were glad to see that the financial plan did not include the enrollment-based cuts, but many worried about the scaled back of ambitions around 3K and other initiatives.
“We are relieved that the city is not moving forward with certain planned cuts to school budgets next year at a time when students still need intensive academic and social-emotional support,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York. “However, we are deeply concerned that the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget does not extend funding for a number of initiatives that provide critical support to students and families.”
The group said the proposed budget appears not to continue funding for a handful of programs that support student mental health, homeless students and undocumented children.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said the administration should be “boosting school budgets,” particularly as a new state law requiring smaller classes is set to go into effect.