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NYC nearing deal to dial back school budget cuts: sources

The New York City Department of Education headquarters in Manhattan. The education department reached a settlement agreement with disability rights advocates in the Bronx, resolving a four-year-old lawsuit about special education services.

The New York City Department of Education headquarters in Manhattan. The city may restore $250 million to school budgets, sources said.

David Handschuh for Chalkbeat

After weeks of protests over funding cuts, New York City Council members and City Hall are nearing a deal to restore school budgets with $250 million, council sources confirmed. 

Mayor Eric Adams’ budget proposal, which City Council overwhelmingly passed last month, outlined a $215 million reduction to school budgets based on declining enrollment projections. City Comptroller Brad Lander, however, uncovered that the cuts for the coming school year would be far steeper, with $372 million less to send to schools. City officials have not provided updated figures but pointed to deeper enrollment losses than originally predicted. 

That means the deal — first reported by NY1 — would still fall short of the overall cut to school budgets, according to Lander’s analysis. It also is far less than the $760 million restoration that a majority of council members this week called to be sent to schools, using unspent federal stimulus dollars.

At an unrelated press conference Wednesday at Gracie Mansion, Adams said there was no agreement over restoring funding cuts but that he’s been having conversations about it with Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. One council source said discussions about funding restorations have been brewing for at least two weeks. 

City Hall declined to comment further.

A deal could be finalized as soon as this week, one source said.

As advocates and educators have protested the cuts, school leaders have been planning for next school year with smaller budgets. The cuts impact the pool of money that schools use to hire staff and build out programming for children. While fewer students in a school may mean they need fewer teachers, less funding can impact new programs or class offerings. It could also mean increasing class sizes just as state lawmakers passed a bill to reduce them.

Principals are reportedly excessing staff and changing or cutting programming.

At least $200 million of the potential funding restoration is expected to come from the federal stimulus dollars, a council source said. Of the $7 billion that New York City received to spend through 2024, just under $4.7 billion remained unspent as of last month. That money could be used for hiring teachers or retaining staff who would have otherwise been excessed, according to one of the sources. 

Even with the comptroller’s analysis, city officials have not clarified exactly how much money is being cut from school budgets for the coming academic year.

“The fact that there is a $250 million restoration when the council originally said it was $215 million indicates people are playing catch-up and trying to figure out how much is lost,” one of the sources said.

All but six of the 51 council members voted to pass the budget. Now, council members are apologizing for approving it. 

Adams has resisted restoring the cuts. 

On Wednesday, Adams reiterated his concerns about using federal stimulus dollars to backfill school budgets if enrollment continues to drop since those dollars will eventually run out. 

The cuts impact Fair Student Funding, a formula driven by enrollment that sends more money to schools with certain high-needs students.

“All we’re doing is denying the reality we’re facing,” Adams said during an unrelated press conference. 

Adams faces pressure not only from the City Council but also from state legislators, who recently passed a bill to reduce class size in New York City. Gov. Kathy Hochul, however, has not yet signed the bill. 

A group of parents and teachers filed a lawsuit this week claiming the city failed to follow proper procedures before voting on the final budget, which took effect on July 1, and are seeking to allow the council to re-vote on it. 

Reema Amin is a reporter covering New York City schools with a focus on state policy and English language learners. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org.

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