New York City Public Schools have suffered severe enrollment losses since the pandemic began. As teachers and administrators prepare to restart this fall, they will face massive cutbacks unless Mayor Eric Adams and the city council can alter the budget they just approved. The school system lost about 64,000 students in just two academic years and is primed to lose another 28,000 this year. What’s causing this phenomenon, and can New York reverse this decline?
The New York City Council and Mayor Adams approved a $101 billion budget last June. As soon as the plans were publicized, parents and education advocates expressed anger and disapproval over cuts to education, which eventually materialized into legal action against New York City, the Department of Education, and Chancellor David Banks. The lawsuit, filed with the Manhattan Supreme Court, argues that city officials abused and exceeded their power by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars for schools without approval from the Department of Education’s oversight board.
Representing the plaintiffs, Laura Barbieri of the Advocates for Justice says, “explicit language of State law requires that these egregious budget cuts be halted and reconsidered by the Mayor and the Council because the law was not followed.” The law in reference mandates that the Panel for Education Policy approve a yearly estimated education financial plan before the city council votes.
Shortly after word broke of the litigation, council members hit the streets, regretful and apologetic while simultaneously attempting to shift the blame. At the steps of the education department’s headquarters, multiple members held a press conference and called upon the Adams administration to restore the funding.
“We didn’t get it right,” Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez said. “I invite the chancellor and the mayor to say that they also didn’t get it right. It’s okay to say we f—ed up.” Lincoln Restler, a de Blasio administration veteran, said he has “buyer’s remorse,” and freshman Shahana Hanif said she made the best decision she could but deflected blame onto “the entire process in this body,” which she described as “severely broken.”
Mayor Adams called his fellow elected officials hypocrites, pointing out that they read, discussed, and approved the budget; it was not forced upon them. Yet now that the people of New York are outraged, they have essentially changed their minds and want a do-over.
According to the Office of Student Enrollment for New York City, the public school system expects 28,100 fewer students to enroll for the fall, which is why the budget reduced education funding. In the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years, it lost about 64,000 students; over the last five years, the city has lost 120,000 students. What’s the cause of this? Could it be COVID-19 restrictions? Is it the curriculum being taught?
Bill de Blasio passed the schooling system onto Eric Adams in utter disarray. After attempting in-person learning in the fall of 2020, the former mayor turned all public education back to virtual and kept it that way until September 2021. COVID restrictions pushed thousands of parents to take matters into their own hands, and they haven’t changed their minds.
Enrollment numbers in private schools, charter schools, and homeschooling have skyrocketed. Those who didn’t agree with the mask mandates or felt their children were learning nothing through a computer screen did what they could for the best interest of themselves and their children.
Is This Fixable?
Chancellor David Banks of the Department of Education espouses a commitment to students’ and parents’ needs and making them feel heard and valued. However, the department’s mission is unclear. Is the primary goal simply to stop hemorrhaging tens of thousands of students a year or to draw back those who have already left?
The calculation for the school funding formula is controversially based on enrollment. When students unenroll, schools lose money. That’s what led the city council and mayor to the number they approved last month. However, Chancellor Banks vows to revisit the formula itself. Still, the budget is already in motion; unless it is altered, teachers and administrators will continue to be let go.
This problem is not New York specific. The issues here are in step with national trends of decreased enrollment in the public school systems. Experts attribute the trend to diminished birth rates, relocations during the pandemic, lack of affordability, and parents wanting a more substantial say in their child’s education.