(The author of this guest post wishes to remain anonymous.)
We have all been hearing about looming budget cuts for NYC public schools in the fiscal year beginning July 1st, 2020. We also know that September’s students will need a tremendous amount of support, whether they are in buildings or at home. While it may be inevitable that schools will need to absorb some of the repercussions of an unprecedented economic downturn, it’s important that city and DOE leadership first address existing disparities in school funding and purchasing power before slashing budgets.
So what are some of the current policies that lead to some schools being able to fund international trips (back when that was a thing) for their students, while others can’t afford to call in a sub when a teacher calls out sick?
- Fair Student Funding Percentages. You’ve likely heard the mayor and chancellor say that when they cut $100+ million from the FSF formula, they’ll start by tackling the schools whose FSF percentage exceeds 100%. (I’ll give you a minute to wrap your brain around the fact that some schools are funded at above 100%.) While the gap has narrowed over the last several years – six years ago, many schools were still funded at 82%, and then the floor was raised to 87%, and again to 90% a few years ago. So even if no one is funded at over 100% in FY21, there’s still a big difference between 90% and 100%. Will Central address this disparity before cuts are applied? Or will the cuts be implemented after FSF %s are factored in, so that a school with a higher % will absorb a bigger cut?
- A note on FSF – this is the formula DOE uses to determine exactly how much $ a school needs to meet all of the various needs of their students. They work out to the penny how much a school should receive in order to provide for their students in general education, special education, English Language Learners, high academic need, high poverty, high graduation challenge, CTE programs. Then they say, this is exactly how much you need. We’re giving you 90% or 92% or 94% of the amount we calculated – now go do it all anyway.
- Average Teacher Salary. FSF is how Central distributes the $ – then it’s up to schools to spend it. That’s where average teacher salary comes into play. The vast majority of a school’s budget goes to pay for teachers. The FSF per capita, the base amount allocated for each child, is calculated using the citywide average salary of all teachers. Each school, though, has a separate average salary calculation, and that’s what every teacher costs the school that year. So the citywide average salary might be $90,000, but a school with many senior teachers might have an average salary of $97,000, and a school with a younger teaching staff might have an average teacher salary of $78,000. This causes huge disparities in purchasing power – $1,000,000 will pay for 10.3 teachers in the first school and 12.8 teachers in the second school. Cutting funds from schools with higher teacher salaries will have a bigger impact on the number of teachers the school can afford than it will for schools with lower salaries.
- School size. There is something to be said for economies of scale – it can be a bit easier for a large school to absorb a reduction than a smaller school. Will cuts take school size into account?
Cutting school budgets for students whose needs are multiplying by the minute should be the last possible resort. If they are absolutely necessary, then every effort must be made to ensure that they are implemented in a way that does not exacerbate existing school funding inequities.