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.”
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.