Focus returns to NYC’s per-student funding formula as school budget cuts loom

For nearly two decades, the primary problem with the Fair Student Funding formula was that many schools did not receive their full allocation – which city officials said was because the state had not delivered its total share of funding that had been mandated under a court case from the early 2000s.

Then, starting last year, the new Democratic majority in Albany began phasing in the state’s obligation, and the city distributed additional money so that all schools receive 100% of their allotment under the formula.

But critics argue the formula has other flaws. They say it still does not set aside sufficient resources to adequately serve groups it identifies as needing additional support, and that tying funding to individual students can make it difficult to meet mandates since the number of students each year does not always fully cover the cost of a teacher.

For example, some special education students are legally entitled to be placed in classes of no more than 12 students – resulting in a student-to-teacher ratio of 12-1. However, schools often have between 12 and 24 of those students – more than fit in one class, but not enough for a second – forcing principals to either pay for an additional teacher without sufficient funds provided under the formula, or place students in larger classes.

“If you need to be in a 12-1 class, it should be provided to you,” said Jenn Choi, a consultant who supports parents navigating special education.

The de Blasio administration formed its own task force on Fair Student Funding in 2019. The group met regularly through the end of that year, but the administration never published the task force’s recommendations.

“Putting it out would have been admitting the problem,” said NeQuan McLean, a Community Education Council president and member of the task force.

Instead, a group of education advocates, including McLean, made the recommendations public in 2021. In addition to calling for more funding for students learning English and those in special education, the task force also argued that the city should allocate additional dollars for the roughly 100,000 students in the school system who live in temporary housing, and the nearly 8,000 students in foster care.

It also called for an increased investment for schools where many students are in poverty, and for all high schools, as opposed to the existing boost in funding that’s currently provided for specialized and selective schools. And it recommended increasing the base funding for all schools so that each is budgeted for a social worker, assistant principal, secretary and library, among other positions.

Now, advocates want the city to follow those recommendations and pressure to overhaul the system is mounting within the ranks of the city’s elected officials.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who has railed against the recent budget cuts alongside a majority of her colleagues, is pushing for reform.

“The policy is dysfunctional. It’s been proven year after year and if nothing is done with regard to the DOE policy then the same things are going to continue to happen,” she said at a press conference on Thursday.

The formula must be approved annually, and In April, the Panel for Education Policy took an unprecedented step by voting against it – a move education department officials said delayed principals receiving their individual school budgets.

This year’s formula was finally approved in May following hours of testimony from parents and advocates criticizing the model. Banks said he agreed that improvements are necessary.

“This is a system I inherited but I’m fully committed to fixing it,” he said at the meeting.

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