[Editor’s note: Versions of this piece appeared in community newspapers throughout the five boroughs. This is the Manhattan version.]
Tens of thousands of children across the city are crammed into overcrowded classrooms. Yet the city has received from the state more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in the past three years to lower class size. Despite this influx of funds — and the city’s promise in writing to use it to lower class size — class sizes have actually increased in New York City.
That is why the United Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation and a coalition of other groups and individuals sued the city Department of Education earlier this month. Our lawsuit charges that despite a decline in overall student enrollment and the injection of more than $760 million in state funds from school years 2007-08 through 2009-10, class sizes have gone up by the largest amount in 11 years.
This $760 million was part of the state’s solution to an earlier case called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which challenged how state education funding had shortchanged urban districts, including New York City. The new funds, under the guidelines known as Contracts for Excellence, came with the proviso that the city deliberately target funds to smaller classes.
New York City took that money, and then ignored its promise, permitting principals to spend the money on other things, including replacing funds lost to city budget cuts, a clear violation of the agreement with the state.
The effects of that refusal can be seen in classrooms throughout the city. Just consider what is happening in 8th-grade classes. In the Bronx, 39 percent of such classes have 30 or more students. In Brooklyn the figure is 41 percent; Manhattan has 49 percent; Queens has 57 percent; and Staten Island has a whopping 70 percent of its 8th grade classes with more than 30 students.
But the problem is more than a question of statistics — the effects are felt in individual schools and classrooms. For instance, PS 28 in upper Manhattan, despite the fact that it got more than $217,000 in class size reduction funds for the current school year, reduced by three the number of classes it offered and had two fewer classroom teachers. The result was that class sizes went up in almost all grades.
Anyone who has ever spent even a day in an urban classroom can clearly understand that it’s easier for teachers to provide individual attention and focused instruction to students in smaller classes. That is why lowering class size is such an important priority for parents.
But the DOE chooses to continue to ignore the long-standing wishes of parents and abdicate its duty to use the state class size reduction funds as intended. That’s mismanagement, plain and simple.
For years DOE officials have called for holding teachers and other educators more accountable for what happens in our schools. Where’s the accountability for the children in overcrowded classes?