By Fern E. Gillespie
The classrooms in New York City public schools have been infamously known as being the most overcrowded classrooms in New York State.
This month, the State Legislature passed a bill that mandates caps on class size to be phased in over five years in all New York City public schools. The caps are 20 students per class in kindergarten through grade three; 23 students per class in grades four through eight; and 25 students per class in high school academic subjects. The new law, which has to be signed by the governor, requires caps in all schools rather than averages and adds enforcement mechanisms to ensure New York City public school compliance.
“It’s about time that New York City really embraces the planning to reduce class sizes so students can get the individualized instruction needed to thrive in their schools,” Jasmine Gripper, Executive Director for the Alliance for Quality Education, a parent and educator advocacy organization told Our Time Press. “When we have large class sizes, we see students being promoted who are not quite yet mastering the skills they need at each grade level and no one having enough time to help those students.”
“If this law is enacted, it will transform New York City schools by finally ensuring smaller classes in all grades,” announced Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters. “For too long, city students have struggled in classes that are 15 to 30 percent larger than those in the rest of the state. These excessive class sizes have deprived them of the close feedback and support of their teachers that they need to succeed, a glaring inequity. While all students benefit from smaller classes, the research shows that those who benefit the most are children of color, who make up the majority of students in the NYC public schools.”
Unfortunately, Mayor Eric Adams has announced approximately $215 million in school budget cuts, which might make it impossible to afford smaller class sizes next year.
This year, enrollment at New York City public schools declined by 4%. Since the COVID pandemic, the number of students attending the city’s public schools has been decreasing. To pay for reduced class sizes, Adams said the bill would lead to further cuts in school budgets for social workers, counselors, dyslexia screenings, trips and after-school programs.
Kindergarten through third-grade classes has averaged around 21.2 students this school year, compared to 23.8 students before the pandemic, according to data compiled Class Size Matters. The averages in grades four through eight have also fallen to 23.8 in 2021-22 from 26.5 in 2019-20; and 24.7 in high school from 26.4 students.
“They’re going to have to excess staff. If you have significantly fewer students, you need significantly fewer teachers,” Mark Cannizzaro, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, told the Gothamist.
The small class bill was shepherded to passage in Albany State Legislature by Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrew Stewart Cousins; Chair of the Assembly Education Committee Michael Benedetto; Chair of the New York and City Senate Education Committee John Liu. The bill awaits the signature of Governor Kathy Hochul to go into effect.
“At this point, the majority of the children in New York City public schools are children of color. If the mayor and the chancellor prioritize Black and brown children the way they do, they will prioritize our children in their budget,” said Gripper. The research shows that smaller classes are beneficial to our children.”