If NYC Public Schools Lose $300 Million In A Week, You Can Thank Politics


Forget about the fiscal cliff in Washington; the kids of New York City are about to jump off one, too.

In less than ten days, New York City’s public school system stands to gain or lose nearly $300 million allotted to New York public schools in state funding. January 17th is the deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set for education departments across the state to decide by what metrics they will evaluate teacher effectiveness in the classroom. In accordance with a 2010 law passed to garner Washington’s attention, he has issued a four percent increase in state funding for classrooms across the state. With this in place, New York would be in the contention for President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program, through which states battle it out in standards to gain treasure chests full of cash – in this case, $700 million – from the federal government, one of which include educator accountability.

The money would possibly go to new curricula and data, teacher development programs and a whole slew of programs for our schools. Except the law included one volatile stipulation: it would outsource responsibility of coming to a deal on teacher evaluations – the mandatory pre-requisite for these funds – to local authorities and unions. So far, 85 percent of the State’s school districts have submitted first drafts of their proposals for evaluating teachers.

New York City has not.

The quagmire of educational politics that has formed between Mr. Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers is holding back the $700 million total, which could lead to disastrous consequences in classrooms’ budgets across the state. Governor Cuomo has said that he will deny the Washington-funded increase if no deal is passed, forcing the schools to conduct spending as if that money is there. This could lead to drastic cutbacks to fill the void left behind: last week, the third and current Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott told an audience at the Manhattan Institute, “This is an unfortunate reality; the cuts will be extremely painful.”

Some people think that the union is holding off until next year because Bloomberg’s out of office then,” Sam Williams told me. “As of now, the two are at a stalemate and no one’s budging.” Williams, an NYU student and President of the school’s Students for Education Reform chapter, used this stalemate as a centerpiece of a Downtown Manhattan rally held in late November by the group. There, the message of the campaign was summarized in a simple chant: “Let’s be real, the kids need a deal.”

Since his inauguration, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has gone to great lengths to hold up New York City’s Department of Education as his administration’s magnum opus. In his second inaugural address from 2006, the Mayor called our children “our most important obligation.”

And it’s an obligation that he has met with a rising price tag: in 2002, the Mayor’s first year in office, the Department of Education budget was $12.71 billion; in the coming fiscal year of 2013, it will have more than doubled to $24.4 billion – all of which are a combination of city, state and federal funds. Overall, the City’s Education budget under Mr. Bloomberg has had a 91.9 percent increase in spending and the Department remains the most expensive to date, eating up a little more than a third of the Mayor’s budget for 2013.

Moving beyond that, he has viewed his handling of the education system in New York City as a judgment on himself, let alone his administration. “The Mayor has always said that education is a test of his mayoralty,” said Doug Turetsky, Chief of Staff at the Independent Budget Office.

However, in the first few months of his first term, he wrested mayoral control of the department to begin this mission and, since then, has drawn the ire of the UFT for disregarding some of its top priorities, such as layoff evasion and compensation. Through threats to the overall education budget and the shared inability of both parties to negotiate effectively, the union has been left without a contract and fed-up to the point where officials are simply waiting for a successor with whom they can hopefully do business with.

But, with $300 million on the line for our children, politics is no excuse. They better get to work.

Correction: In original publication, this article stated that the $300 million was from Race to the Top federal funds. However, those funds are from the state; the law passed by Cuomo would put New York in contention for the Race to the Top monies, worth $700 million or so.