By Alex Zimmerman, Reema Amin, and Christina Veiga, originally published in Chalkbeat New York
Facing pressure from lawmakers and advocates, Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to reverse several significant cuts to the education department, lessening the blow to school budgets, saving a counseling program for high needs schools, and restoring summer jobs for young people.
The $88.1 billion budget deal the mayor announced Tuesday also includes a plan to gradually transfer responsibility for more than 5,000 school safety agents from the police department to the education department. That represents a major about-face for de Blasio, after repeatedly dismissing the idea.
“We need to think differently about how we support young people in the city,” the mayor said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Our young people need to be reached, not policed.”
The agreement came hours before the city’s July 1 budget deadline and caps off one of the most intense budget negotiations since de Blasio took office. Due to a fiscal crisis spurred by the coronavirus, the city is staring down an estimated $9 billion deficit, and schools have been bracing for cuts at a time when needs will be great given the academic and emotional tolls the virus has taken on families.
City Council is expected to approve the budget, despite several members voicing concerns that cuts to the NYPD and changes with school safety agents don’t go far enough in rethinking public safety. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams Tuesday threw an additional wrench, threatening to prevent the budget from being executed by invoking his Charter authority to block the city from collecting property taxes, a highly unusual move.
If schools aren’t hiring additional counselors, why should the city hire additional police officers, Williams asked.
Speaker Corey Johnson said City Council plans to have hearings and create legislation to ensure that school safety moves toward a “community model,” engaging youth, families, school leaders, advocates and unions.
“This needs do be done through a collaborative process,” Johnson said, noting he was disappointed that changes didn’t go further. “I know the end of this fight is not finished.”
The budget also comes against the backdrop of significant uncertainty about the future of the city’s finances and how state and federal governments will react. The mayor also warned that the subsequent budget could be bleak as well, with a projected deficit of $5 billion for the following year.
Some details about the budget remain unclear and a full breakdown is not yet available. Here’s what we know so far.
Undoing $100 million cut to school budgets
De Blasio proposed cutting $100 million directly from school budgets, about 1.6% of the money that flows through the city’s “Fair Student Funding” formula, which makes up the majority of school budgets and dedicates more money for higher-need students, such as those with disabilities or English language learners.
That cut has now been eliminated, according to Mark Treyger, chairman of City Council’s education committee. It will come as a relief to school communities, which were concerned about the cuts as they scramble to reopen their doors in the fall, faced with immense logistical challenges as well as increased academic and mental health needs.
Still, schools may not be completely out of the woods.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing at least a $10 billion shortfall, has the power this year to periodically cut funding for localities if state revenue falls slightly below projections — something that has already happened. Without extra help from the federal government, Cuomo has said he could cut school funding by as much as 20% across the state. That could mean up to $2.3 billion lost for New York City schools alone.
Summer youth employment, camps partially restored
The mayor agreed to shift $115 million from the NYPD to youth programming. That would pay for about 35,000 spots for summer youth jobs as well as a “summer bridge” program that lets students take classes for college credit, Budget Director Melanie Hartzog said. The city did not disclose the specific breakdown.
The mayor initially proposed cancelling the jobs program, over coronavirus and budget concerns, causing massive public outcry. The move would have saved the city $124 million it spent last year matching about 74,500 young people with jobs. De Blasio also proposed cutting about $110 million in subsidized day camp programs, which serve about 100,000 children, predominantly from low-income families. Hartzog said about 81,000 various summer camp slots would be restored, though it was unclear which programs those spots accounted for.
“City Council cared very deeply about this — I give them credit for that,” de Blasio said. “They wanted to see the maximum investment in young people.”
It remained unclear if the state will contribute an expected $23 million for the jobs program, estimated to fund about 15,000 slots. Last week, the state imposed new guidelines on how summer youth jobs programs should operate this year — but city providers fear they might not be able to meet the state rules in time to qualify for the funding. State legislators have urged Cuomo to provide funding and ease up the guidelines.
Even with some funding restored, summer offerings will be smaller and look different due to virus concerns, though city officials did not disclose a final model. The city was planning for largely stipend-based, career exploration or learning programs for youth versus the program’s traditional, hourly summer youth jobs.
Day camp providers were hoping to provide a mix of in-person and virtual programs for children. The last-minute budget deal also means providers will be racing to rehire laid-off employees and jumpstart their programs. In-person day camps got the state’s OK to begin operating as of June 29, while the jobs program typically starts the week after July Fourth. City officials have not yet said when the programs would start or how youth could apply.
School safety will be removed from the police department
As widespread protests against systemic racism and police violence have prompted some advocates calling to remove police from city schools, the mayor agreed to begin transitioning supervision of more than 5,000 school safety agents from the police department to the education department.
The mayor said the transition would take at least two years, with school principals taking a “growing leadership function” in oversight of the agents, and the education department stepping in to train officers on less punitive discipline practices.
“I think school safety will be more effective if it gets more deeply trained in those approaches and deepening the dialog with young people and their families,” de Blasio said. “So there’s going to be a lot of change of approach in the first year, and then the full transition in the second year.”
The move represents a significant policy shift for a mayor who has repeatedly rejected the idea and even dismissed a mayoral advisory group’s recommendation to study such a transition because of concerns about overly punitive enforcement that sometimes lands students — predominantly Black and Hispanic youth — into the criminal justice system.
The change allows the mayor and council to say they’ve heeded the demands of students, teachers, and other protesters to remove police officers from schools. It also provides a significant chunk of the mayor’s pledge to reduce police department funding by $1 billion, though it is largely an accounting maneuver since the city will still be on the hook for funding the safety officers. The mayor did not answer a question about whether school safety officials would still be able to arrest students.
“This is a PR move and we have zero faith right now that this is actually a move in the right direction,” said Johanna Miller, an education policy expert at the New York Civil Liberties Union, who is part of a mayoral task force on school climate and helped negotiate previous reforms to the school safety division.
Officials did not immediately say whether the city is reducing spending on school safety agents next year, for which the mayor budgeted $427 million, a 38% increase since he took office.
Simply transitioning oversight of school safety agents won’t by itself dramatically change student interactions with police, some advocates said, since the vast majority of arrests and summonses of students are conducted by regular patrol officers not school safety agents.
The deal also transfers control of crossing guards from the police to the education department.
Counseling program restored
De Blasio has restored funding for about 130 counselors who are part of the city’s “Single Shepherd” program who serve students in the South Bronx and Brownsville, Brooklyn, Treyger said.
One of the mayor’s signature “Equity and Excellence” initiatives, the program is designed to help students in grades 6-12 with high school and college admissions, and provide social-emotional support.
After some pushback to cutting the program, city officials initially floated a middle-ground where the counselors would be allowed to stay at their schools but would be assigned to a pool of educators without permanent placements and encouraged to find new jobs. Now, the mayor has restored the program entirely.
There is a freeze on new hires within the education department, but schools will be able to hire from the Absent Teacher Reserve, a controversial pool of educators who remain on the city payroll but do not have permanent positions because they face disciplinary action, or because their schools closed or lost enrollment.
Layoffs across all city agencies, including the education department, are still a possibility.
The budget agreement assumes $1 billion of savings in labor, de Blasio said. The city will spend the next several months negotiating with labor unions to find the reductions. The city will issue layoffs — which de Blasio previously said could affect every city agency — by Oct. 1 if no other solutions are found.
“We did have to include it in the budget as a last resort because we have no other options,” de Blasio said.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.