Below are the comments I delivered last night at the last of the DOE's Contracts for Excellence borough hearings in Manhattan. There were only about 15 people there, and the only two people to provide comments were Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, the President of the Community Education Council for District 4, and me.
Lindsey Oates, the DOE finance director who delivered the powerpoint presentation of the DOE's proposed plan, said the turnout was the highest at any of the borough hearings, which is not surprising, because as Kaliris pointed out, none of the CECs received any notification of these hearings, and the only way she found out about them was through the Class Size Matters newsletter.
DOE didn't bother to inform any elected officials or parent or community groups either as far I as I know, which violates the intent of the C4E law which says the district's final adopted plan for these funds is supposed to be developed in conjunction with public input.
Lindsey said CEC hearings would be held later, but as I pointed out, every year they hold those hearings in the fall or winter, too late to have any impact on their plan, since the money has long been spent.
I also said that the law and regulations were written to try to ensure that the DOE would notify the public in advance, hold timely hearings where they would actual listened to parent input, post an assessment of the public comments as well as the "district's response to each substantive comment, including a
statement of any changes made to the contract for excellence as a
result of such comment, or an explanation of why the comment's
suggestions were not incorporated into the contract for excellence."
Yet the DOE has NEVER listened to parents or the public since the C4E law was passed in 2007; nor have they ever revised their proposal according to their suggestions. It been many years since they even posted a summary of public comments and/or explained why they accepted or rejected them, as the regs require. Lindsey did not dispute any of these points.
I also asked Lindsey why the DOE claims in their plan that there are no more C4E funds than in FY 2010 (on another page they say FY 2012), given the fact that our schools are receiving $530 million in additional state Foundation Aid in fulfillment of the CFE lawsuit. The C4E law was passed to ensure that these funds went towards addressing the specific deficiencies outlined in the case, including excessive class sizes.
Lindsey said the amount had not changed because this is under the control of the State Education Department, who had not told them they had to increase the C4E funds, and that the NYSED C4E website had not been updated in many years. (This point about the website is true, as we along with AQE and the Ed Law Center pointed out in a memo to the Commissioner Rosa and Regents Chancellor Young last week.)
I asked Lindsey specifically if NYSED were to tell DOE to increase the C4E amounts, would DOE comply? She said yes.
Finally, I asked Lindsey to explain the DOE's claim, as expressed on p. 4 of their C4E proposal, that while they acknowledge the law specifically prohibits supplanting, the state has "provided guidance" saying these
funds can be spent to replace funds cut by DOE, which seems absurd on the face of it, since that is the definition of
I asked Lindsey if she had a different definition of supplanting, and she said she agreed with my definition. I then asked her if she would send me the SED guidance on this, and she said yes. I emailed her today asking for this, and I'll let you know if I hear back.
In her comments, Kaliris also pointed out that principals are told that if they hire additional staff to lower class size with the C4E funds, they have to carry the fringe and benefit costs on their school budgets. These amounts can cost up to 40% of the teachers' salaries. This burden is unlike the process of all other teachers schools may hire, in which DOE covers the fringe cost centrally. Yet another poison pill meant to discourage principals to lower class size, even if they would wanted to and had the space.
Meanwhile, if you want to send your own comments, please do so in the next week or so, to email@example.com. (The DOE website says the deadline for comments is Sept. 3, but we have asked SED to make this date sooner, or else the final plan will be submitted to the State after the funds have already been spent, making the process even more of an obvious sham than it already is.) Feel free to copy any of the points below or add your own. Thanks!
August 5, 2021
Comments on the DOE's failure to do right by NYC children in their C4E proposed "plan"
Hello. my name is Leonie Haimson, I’m the Executive Director of Class Size Matters.
First of all, I have to question DOE’s failure to allocate a
single penny to class size reduction in this proposed plan, even though In
2003, the State’s highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case said that
class sizes in our schools were a systemic problem that robbed NYC students of
their constitutional right to a sound, basic education. And yet
class sizes in our schools have increased since then, especially in the early
grades. Why is the DOE refusing to follow through on the court’s decision, by declining
to allocate a single penny of these funds in a targeted manner towards lowering
Of the $530 million in the proposal, nearly $100M will be spent on putting extra teachers in the classroom, which as any teacher or parent will tell you, does not yield the same proven benefits as smaller classes. As Amanda Vender a Queens ESL teacher wrote, putting an extra teacher in a class “ is not a good use of our professionals’ time” and “ students’ ability to focus in a classroom of 30 students is much less than compared to a classroom of 15 or 20 students.”
I also question why the DOE claims that are no
more C4E funds, given that NYC
schools are due to receive $530 million in additional state foundation aid from
the state, increasing to $1.3 billion annually over next three years, to
fulfill of the goals of the CFE lawsuit.
Why does DOE say that principals
can use these funds to maintain or limit class size increases? Of
the funds that principals can use at their discretion, DOE claims that they can
be spent to maintain
or minimize class size increases, which is not the same as lowering class size. Maintaining or minimizing increases in class
size would not provide any progress
towards the smaller classes that NYC students need and deserve, according to
the state’s highest court.
Why does DOE say these funds can be used to supplant or fill in for holes created by the city’s budget cuts, when SUPPLANTING IS SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED IN THE C4E LAW. Again, it would make no sense to allow state funds to be used where the city itself has cut back, which would also mean no progress or improvement in terms of providing equitable learning conditions for NYC students.
Of course, all these repeated and rampant failures of DOE are especially unacceptable, given how smaller classes will be more important next fall, more than ever, to help with social distancing and to strengthen the academic support that students will need to make up for a year and half of disruptions and remote learning.
The DOE recently claimed to the UFT that all but 50 schools can achieve social distancing, though no one believes them. In general, of course, smaller classes lead to better outcomes for all kids – especially those who need help the most. That’s why class size reduction is one of only a handful of reforms proven to provide real equity by narrowing the achievement/opportunity gap between racial and economic groups. Smaller classes have also been shown to result in higher test scores, better grades, more engaged students, and fewer disciplinary referrals.
My final question is, Why does DOE insist on ignoring the input of parents and teachers on this issue? Every year the DOE’s school surveys have been administered, smaller classes have been the top priority of K12 parents when asked what changes they would like to see in their children’s education. According to a UFT teacher survey, 99% NYC teachers responded that class size reduction would be an effective reform to improve NYC schools, far outstripping any other proposal. And yet year after year, the DOE refuses to do the one thing that we know for sure would lead to improve outcomes in our schools, even when provided an additional $8B in state and federal funds over the next 3 years.
It's a crying shame, and it speaks volumes about the DOE’s profound failure to do what’s right by NYC children.