Earlier today, both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter made a series of announcements regarding the future of public schools, as well as the upcoming summer for the city’s youths.
One announcement that was made is that New York City’s public schools will no longer be owing millions to the Department of Education (DOE) because of dropping enrollment. The schools would have had to return tens of thousands of dollars, that was given to them from the DOE per each student enrolled that dropped out this year. It is “standard practice [to ask] schools to give up funding if their enrollment falls below projections when school registers are finalized”, Chalkbeat reported last fall.
Back in January, Chalkbeat also reported that enrollment in DOE schools fell by 4%, or 43,000. 25% of DOE schools lost about 10% of their enrollment. In Brooklyn, the schools that saw the biggest drops were in District 23 (Ocean Hill, Brownsville), District 19 (East New York), and District 18 (Canarsie, Flatbush).
D23 and D18 saw nearly half of their schools lose 10% or more of their students, while D19 saw nearly 40% lose that amount. Schools that saw the greatest enrollment decline include D19’s School for the Future Brooklyn (-35.67%), D23’s Brooklyn Democracy Academy (-31.07%), D19’s The Fresh Creek School (-26.84%), D17’s Brownsville Academy High School (-26.79%), and D18’s I.S. 211 John Wilson (-26.61%).
Speaking at a press conference this morning alongside the Mayor, Chancellor Porter said “Our school communities have been through so much this year, and that’s why the Mayor said, we will be holding schools harmless for register losses this year. There are a lot of schools who are really excited about that, and we look forward to doing that for school communities, because we know how important it is to do the work that we need to do.”
With the schools having been found harmless, and their debt cleared, many Brooklynites are relieved.
“This is a huge victory for students, administrators, parents, and teachers,” says City Council candidate Justin Krebs, who is also a board member at Park Slope’s P.S. 39 Parent Association and the Secretary of District 15’s Presidents Council. “This is exactly what parents and educators across D15 and D13 were rallying for this Friday, in solidarity with schools across the city, and I’m excited that Chancellor Porter is listening and responding to parents around this issue.”
The rally Krebs refers to is the one held this past Friday afternoon at Grand Army Plaza. There, about thirty parents, students, and two Assembly members, Jo Anne Simon of AD-52, and Richard Carroll of AD-44, called for the cancellation of the budget clawbacks. The rally was organized by Jessica Flores, the PTO President at P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, which she says has seen an enrollment decline by 7.8%
Flores says when she saw her school was going to owe $250,000, she began reaching out to schools in her district, District 15, as well as other school districts in Brooklyn, including 13, 16, 17, and 19.
“If we’re downfunding,” Flores told Bklyner on Friday. “We’ll have no money left. Principals will only be able to support teachers and staff, and not on enrichment programs, addressing the social and emotional trauma from this traumatic year. This is long-lasting, and will fester for years.”
Although today’s announcement was met with relief, there is still more work to be done, Krebs said.
“But this can’t just be a one time shift in policy,” he says in a statement obtained by Bklyner. “We need to prioritize school budgets every year regardless of federal funding. This amnesty is the first step — next we need commitments of more funding, more resources and a real plan for in-person learning in the fall.”
Flores, who says she is happy and relieved that the budget amnesty has been granted, also hopes that the city’s elected leaders will find new ways to fund school budgets.
“The practice of reducing a school’s budget due to enrollment loss makes no sense if that does not change the fundamental needs of a school,” she says. “When a child leaves a school, that school maintains the same amount of budget need-the same number of staff members and expenses. The children who remain in that school deserve all of the funding it takes for their school to have excellent teachers, supportive programming, and enough staff members for it to thrive and function.”
In addition to this morning’s announcement, there were two more that might be met with hope for Brooklyn’s parents.
The Mayor announced a new opt-in for in-person learning for DOE students. This is due to the Center for Disease Control changing their strategy for classrooms, for students to maintain 3-feet distance, rather than the previous 6-foot distance.
“We want to ask parents and kids across all grade levels if they want to come back when the opportunity arises,” Mayor de Blasio explains during this morning’s press conference.
The opt-in period will go from this Wednesday, March 24th until Wednesday, April 7th. Students from PreK through fifth grade will be allowed to opt-in, while, according to Chalkbeat, there are “more questions” to be asked regarding middle and high schoolers.
Finally, the Mayor announced today that the Summer Youth Employment Program will return this summer, and applications are open for those between the ages of 14 and 21, until April 23rd.
“Young New Yorkers have been through so much this year, and our recovery cannot leave them behind,” says Mayor de Blasio. “I am thrilled the Summer Youth Employment Program will connect 70,000 young people to paid opportunities, and I encourage everyone interested to apply!”