New York City public schools are slated to receive a $4.5 billion budget addition ahead of the 2021-22 school year. The funds are part of President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which became law in early March.
The injection of funding – which amounts to about $4,500 per student annually – will certainly be a welcome gift to newly-installed Schools Commissioner Meisha Porter, who has set out an ambitious agenda as she begins planning the post-corona era for the nation’s largest public school district.
Significantly, however, the windfall could also present a political minefield between local and state officials about how to spend the money. Governor Andrew Cuomo came under fire last year for his allocation of previous rounds of corona-relief aid, which critics said were used for the benefit of wealthy school districts instead of high-poverty ones.
Two certain areas of contention will be the right to disburse the money and the strings that come attached to the influx of cash.
City officials quickly went on record to urge Albany not to use the federal dollars for state needs.
“We are reviewing the new federal stimulus,” Katie O’Hanlon, spokesperson for the education department, wrote in an email to Chalkbeat, an online education news site. “It’s essential that NYC’s share is not offset by state cuts so we can ensure every education dollar we’re promised will go towards our students, staff and communities.”
Even on a local level, local activists and teachers want the ability to use the funding to address the specific challenges their schools face. But they will face pressure from Education Department officials pushing for regulations to govern how the money is spent.
However, that is not necessarily a zero-sum issue. One group, the Alliance for Quality Education said the money should be used to reduce class sizes and to invest in “social-emotional learning,” but also warned that reckless short-term spending without a long-term funding plan would be a mistake.
“Hiring more teachers now just to lay them off in two years” would ultimately prove fruitless, said Jasmine Gripper, executive director of the AQE, told Chalkbeat.