NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks begs Albany for cash to reduce class sizes

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By Dan Sears

New York City’s Department of Education boss David Banks went hat in hand to Albany on Thursday to beg lawmakers for additional cash to help the Big Apple comply with the new state-enforced class size mandate and lobby for mayoral control over public schools.

The city Schools Chancellor warned that some of the Big Apple’s successful school programs were at risk of being on the chopping block in the coming years if more “help and support” wasn’t offered up to cover the costly class size law.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we’ve got to reduce our pre-K programs, because we got to make sure that we comply with this class size law,” Banks testified at Thursday’s state legislative budget hearing.

Banks acknowledged the city had already reduced classrooms to comply with the class size law for the next two years — but projected “trade-offs” for the years to come.

“Other good programs that we have, we might not be able to continue, because we will have to make sure that we comply with this law and the priority that is this law,” the DOE boss later told reporters.

“So what we were really hoping to do here today was to say to the legislature, ‘we want to comply with the law… we need additional help and support’.”

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New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks asked state lawmakers for additional funding at the state legislative budget hearing on Feb. 1, 2024.

Sen. John Liu (D-Queens), however, was quick to lambast Banks during the hearing, pointing to how the city had already managed to comply with the law “without doing anything.”

“I would like to make sure you understand, that we understand, that while you say this, the public schools in New York City are in compliance in year one and potentially in year two,” Liu said, as he implored Banks to make reducing classroom sizes a priority.

“That’s without doing a single thing. You’ve been in compliance without doing anything.”

The law, signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2022, places a 20-student max cap on kindergarten through third-grade classes; 23 for fourth through eighth grade and 25 for those in high school.

Banks warned that some school programs may be cut due to the state’s class size mandate. NY State Assembly

To meet the requirements of the law, the city must ensure that 20% of classes meet the caps by the 2023-2024 school year and continuously increase the percentage to meet 100% by 2027-2028.

The DOE has also been working towards cutting down class sizes, but Banks has previously argued it will put a burden on the already strapped school budget.

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The rule is projected to set the city back nearly $2 billion annually once the change is fully implemented in five years, according to an analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Banks echoed those sentiments Thursday, telling lawmakers: “Our estimations are that we’re going to have to hire about another 10 to 12,000 teachers in order to be in full compliance.”

Meanwhile, the chancellor also made the case for allowing Mayor Eric Adams to continue running the nation’s largest school system.

Mayoral control is set to expire on June 30, but Hizzoner has the backing of Governor Kathy Hochul for a four-year extension of the current system. 

“You can ultimately have a system when no one’s really in charge and particularly when you have issues of crisis. It’s very challenging when no one is really in charge and can make the tough call,” Banks said Thursday.

The chancellor said he believes lawmakers should wait to consider the results of the State Education Department report, which is currently being conducted into mayoral control, before offering up a decision.

Banks also lobbied the lawmakers to extend mayoral control of the city school system for Mayor Adams. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“I believe that the voices of the people and the communities around the city need to be heard and so those hearings were designed to do that,” he added.

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Critics of the current system say it places too much power in the hands of the mayor and diminishes local voices.

Defenders, meanwhile, argue that centralizing decision-making allows for a much more effective and accountable system — a stark contrast to the controversial and fractured school board of prior years. 

“I know what it looked like back then and it was not good and so this certainly beats the old system,” Banks said.

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