Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his preliminary budget proposal Thursday, which includes significant cuts to teacher training.
The $95.3 billion proposal for Fiscal Year 2021 takes a more cautious and pessimistic approach than in previous years. That’s because of a $6 billion state budget gap from rising Medicaid costs, de Blasio explained.
“This is by far the largest state deficit we have ever confronted,” the mayor said, adding, “We’re very worried about education cuts.”
De Blasio’s proposal kicks off months of negotiations between the mayor’s office and City Council members until the final spending plan is approved this summer. In recent years, the state has increased education funding, but it’s unclear what will come from the state this year. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet released a budget proposal of his own, though city budget officials said the preliminary budget assumes a similar (roughly 3.4%) increase from the state as last year.
The city is budgeting for a $274 million increase for special education staffing. Budget officials acknowledged that tuition reimbursements for private schools have exploded for students with disabilities, reaching $540 million this fiscal year. And payments to charter schools are expected to increase $93 million in next year’s budget.
Here are some highlights from the mayor’s proposal.
Cuts to teacher training
A significant share of savings the city found in the education department’s budget are coming from shrinking teacher training.
In each of the next four years, the city plans to reduce funding for teacher training by $31 million, which represents less than 6% of all professional development funding. Officials said the cuts would come from consolidating certain trainings and eliminating duplicative ones.
Officials said there will be no cuts to the $23 million effort to provide implicit bias training to most education department employees — an initiative that has drawn mixed reactions from educators and which Chancellor Richard Carranza has forcefully defended as essential.
Carmen Fariña, New York City’s previous schools chancellor, had made professional development a centerpiece of school improvement efforts and worked to reform the system to reflect that. But teachers and principals complained trainings were often of little value and relied heavily on consultants. Last year, the city moved to slash outside contracts by $23 million.
Paula White, executive director of the teacher advocacy group Educators for Excellence, said she was “very concerned” about any attempts to cut back on training for educators.
She said access to professional development is crucial for serving students “in the best way possible,” especially as the city rolls out new approaches to discipline or teaching literacy. By the same token, the city needs to do a better job of making sure trainings match up to classroom needs, according to White.
“None of that can occur if we don’t actually have the dollars to do that. I think we should be pushing for improved quality — and protecting those dollars,” White said.
Reducing the pool of teachers without permanent assignments
The city expects the cost of the Absent Teacher Reserve to shrink by $39 million per year by requiring principals to hire from this pool of educators when schools have an opening.
Reserve teachers continue to collect a full paycheck, but don’t have permanent job assignments due to disciplinary or legal issues, or because the schools where they worked were closed or lost enrollment.
City officials said there are currently 725 educators in the pool, but substantial savings have proved hard to come by. The mayor has previously pledged to cut the ATR by half, but over the years the numbers have remained stubbornly high.
“It’s been an obsession of mine” de Blasio said. “We have driven down the ATR pool and we will drive it down further.”
The de Blasio administration has taken numerous steps to try to slash the reserve, which in 2018 cost the city more than $130 million, by offering hiring incentives to principals and severance packages to teachers who agreed to retire or resign. In one of the most controversial and aggressive moves, the education department has also placed reserve teachers in schools, even over principals’ objections.
The reserve grew substantially under the Bloomberg administration, which struck a deal with the union that gave principals more authority to fire staffers, but also prevented teachers from being fired even while the city aggressively closed schools.
No new education initiatives
Absent from the mayor’s budget proposal were any new education initiatives. The mayor has repeatedly said that the country’s largest school system, which he oversees, is one of his top priorities. Early in de Blasio’s tenure, he advanced costly and ambitious policies, including rolling out universal pre-K and a nearly $800 million effort to lift struggling schools.
But as his final term winds down, the mayor has not launched any major new initiatives. Instead, he has doubled-down on earlier priorities, such as making Advanced Placement classes available to all high school students, and expanding public pre-K to 3-year-olds.