first draft

What are Mayor de Blasio’s education priorities? Here’s what his preliminary budget tells us

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his preliminary budget proposal Tuesday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 on Tuesday, totaling $84.67 billion, a 3 percent increase over last year’s spending plan.

It funds initiatives the mayor launched two years ago such as universal literacy by second grade and computer science education for every student. It also promises to fix the city’s glitch-ridden special education tracking system.

Still, some advocates criticized the plan for not including extra funding for social workers in schools with large homeless populations (though de Blasio signaled that he planned to restore it), and failing to advance a universal free lunch program. The proposed budget also restores money for a summer program the mayor has previously tried to cut — but earned some flak for not permanently restoring that funding.

Here are some highlights:

Better tracking of special education data

De Blasio’s proposal would invest roughly $16 million each year going forward on the city’s notoriously dysfunctional system for tracking services for special needs students, also known as SESIS.

City officials said improvements would allow the city to better monitor whether students are actually receiving mandated services, and would improve functionality issues that have previously cost the city millions in overtime — a move praised by some special education advocates. Still, Public Advocate Letitia James, who filed a lawsuit last February claiming SESIS had cost the city $356 million in lost Medicaid reimbursements, said the city’s plan does not go far enough to address “systemic issues.”

Alleviate overcrowding

As part of the administration’s bid to reduce overcrowding, this year’s budget proposal includes nearly $500 million in additional spending to create roughly 38,500 seats between the years 2020 and 2024. That will “largely alleviate the overcrowding issue we’re facing now,” de Blasio said. Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Education, said that is in addition to the 44,000 seats already included in the city’s five-year capital plan.

But at least one advocate raised concerns about whether this pace of expansion does enough to address overcrowding issues the city currently faces.

Boost internet access

The city is continuing to throw financial support behind its promise of giving every student access to computer science education by 2025. Though a survey of schools in Brooklyn found many lacked a qualified computer science instructor and had poor internet access, de Blasio’s budget includes almost $50 million through 2021 to boost internet speeds.

“Literally every school in the city will be reached by that point,” de Blasio said.

Funding for Schools Out NYC slots

In previous years, de Blasio has tried to cut funding for this middle school summer program, only to restore it under pressure from parents, educators, and City Council members. The mayor appears to be trying to avoid that debate this year by agreeing to fund almost 23,000 slots this summer.

Still, some critics noted that the proposed $15 million would fund fewer seats than last year.

“If the mayor truly wants to address income inequality and support low-income families in New York, his administration needs to baseline summer camp programming with permanent funding,” said Sister Paulette Lomonaco, executive director of Good Shepherd Services. “Anything less runs counter to what we all know struggling New York families need.”

Expanding Summer in the City

The mayor’s proposed budget would allocate $14.3 million in fiscal year 2018 and more in the years beyond to expand the Department of Education’s Summer in the City program. The mayor said the program, which encompasses both summer school and enrichment activities, would target additional second-graders considered “at risk” in math and reading, expand STEM programming, and extend summer school from four to six hours per day.

Roughly 30 percent of city students were reading on grade level by third grade when he came into office, the mayor said, and now 41 percent are. His goal, he explained, is to get 100 percent reading on grade level within the decade.

Funding for Summer Youth Employment Program

The mayor’s plan would also add 5,000 slots to the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), bringing the total to 65,000 slots, funded by $9.3 million in fiscal year 2018. The city’s program has long been considered a model for other cities, though a recent report from the Community Service Society urged the city to rebrand its jobs program as a universal summer internship program that better prepared students for the workforce.

Adding more crossing guards

The proposal would use $6.3 million to hire 200 new crossing guards and 100 supervisors to “fully cover all crossings,” de Blasio said. He added that it might be the first time in city history that all school crosswalks would be guarded.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”