The so-called “class size” bill awaiting Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature is another example of politicians putting special interests ahead of students’ interests.
The United Federation of Teachers is attempting to steal more than $1 billion from New York City parents and our children. And it’s pressuring Hochul to be its accomplice.
The legislation, which passed the state Senate and Assembly, mandates class-size reductions the teachers union has spent years fighting for. It’s a giveaway to the union, which favors smaller class sizes because it means hiring more teachers. Actual parents have many other priorities.
I know because I am a parent plaintiff in the lawsuit New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights filed against the state more than eight years ago, with a coalition of public-school parents and advocacy organizations such as the NYC Parents Union and some Community Education Councils. We parent plaintiffs demanded that New York properly fund the education of our children. And we won!
In October 2021, the governor signed a settlement agreement, with settlement amounts due to every school district in the state. New York City is due more than $1 billion. In her statement at the signing, Hochul declared that “this settlement closes a long chapter of inequity and demonstrates my administration’s commitment” to “fully funding public education.”
Through seven years of litigation and meetings, we parents discussed how any settlement money should be spent. During the most recent meeting, on Oct. 20, 2021, the parent plaintiffs and organizations outlined our priorities: special-education services to compensate for services lost during the pandemic, academic tutoring (a truly proven academic booster), increased mental-health services, after-school programming, extracurricular activities, laptops and technology for every student and more school-safety agents. New York City families are lucky Mayor Eric Adams and Chancellor David Banks understand and support these priorities.
What we never discussed during nearly a decade of meetings was using settlement funds to lower class sizes. This topic was never raised. Never.
Note too that each year the city Department of Education conducts a survey asking parents what is important to them. The No. 1 choice every year is more enrichment programs, including after-school programs, clubs and teams.
Need further proof that parents don’t prioritize small classes? Fifty-eight percent of New York City classrooms already meet the class-size goals — and those smaller class sizes are most often in failing schools with staggering, and increasing, enrollment losses. This, while academically strong schools with the city’s largest class sizes have waitlists that never clear. Parents prefer 32 students in a class where children are learning to 15 students in a class where students don’t meet grade-level proficiency.
And for families like mine, the failures of the system are more pronounced — 65% of black and Hispanic students do not read, write and do math at grade level. New York City has been graduating students who are illiterate and innumerate. Parents are fleeing failing public schools and enrolling their children in charter, parochial, private and home-school alternatives.
No need to take my word for it: The city’s Independent Budget Office released a report Wednesday stating Department of Education schools’ enrollment plunged 8.3% during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years while charter-school enrollment rose 6.9%. Just last week, the city released data showing DOE schools will likely lose nearly 30,000 students by this fall.
Finally, the research does not support the idea that simply reducing class size leads to better academic outcomes — teacher quality and curriculum selection turn out to be much more important.
This union-backed class-size legislation is a betrayal of all parents and an end-run around the NYSER parent plaintiffs’ wishes. There were no public hearings or consultations with parents, the real stakeholders, before Sen. John Liu introduced the bill on Memorial Day weekend!
The bill, S9460, will rob city students of the education and services we parents fought for and instead funnel all the settlement money to hiring more teachers, something the union — not the parents — wants. The legislation guarantees that not a single teacher will be “excessed” despite the fact that the school closures the teachers union demanded resulted in more than 100,000 students leaving the school system.
As Mayor Adams recently noted, the system is “hemorrhaging students.” To stop student departures, we need to stop funding teachers-union wish lists and start listening to actual parents. The UFT is responsible for the under-enrollment crisis and resulting school-budget cuts that they’re lying to the public and parents about.
If Hochul signs this bill, she will be colluding in the theft of $1 billion from New York City students who just lost two years of education and the normal school life they all deserve because our leaders put special interests ahead of students’ interests. Enough is enough.
Gov. Hochul, veto bill S9460.
Mona Davids is a high-school parent and the president of the NYC Parents Union.