Thursday, July 13, 2023

Comments on IBO brief on class size reduction costs

Articles about the IBO estimate and our response were published in the Daily News and Gothamist.

July 12, 2023

Regarding IBO brief on class size reduction costs:

It is surprising that the IBO came out with a higher estimate of the staffing cost for the new class size reduction law than the city’s estimate– $1.6- $1.8 billion vs. the DOE’s estimate of approximately $1.3 billion, and it is unclear why.  Perhaps this is because the IBO is re using enrollment data two years old.  The DOE states they also assumed “a moderate degree of school budget realigning through reducing existing non-teacher positions, per diem and per session, and non-staffing spending.” Neither the IBO nor the DOE seem to have into account the fact that many NYC schools have a relatively high teacher/student ratios yet relatively large class sizes, meaning that some schools may be able to re-assign existing pedagogical staff to classroom instruction, without additional costs.

Nonetheless, there will be a significant need for hiring more teachers in the years to come. The IBO estimates 17,700 new teachers will be required, which will be a challenge, particularly given the fact that the number of K12 teaching positions has fallen by about 4,000 over the last five years, with the number set to fall even further next year.  As the report points out, the current DOE plan is to further reduce the total pedagogical headcount by approximately 3,500 positions from 2023 to 2026; clearly that will have to change. While the IBO states there are approximately 11,000 pedagogical vacancies, they do not explain if these are forced vacancies that schools have been unable to fill because of budget constraints, or a result of a shortage of available candidates.

What the IBO brief does reveal is that the Chancellor’s repeated claim that high-poverty schools will not benefit from the class size mandate because they already have small enough classes is a red herring.  The data reveals that only 9 percent of the one third of schools with the highest poverty rates achieved the class size cap in 2021-2022; and most likely even fewer did last year, as class sizes increased in most schools across the city.  Nearly half (47%) of the schools with the highest poverty rates had between 37-100% of classes over the cap.  Moreover, even in the other two-thirds of NYC public schools, poverty levels can be as high as 72%.

It is particularly disappointing that the IBO did not attempt to estimate the cost of new facilities, and how many new seats will have to be built to provide enough space for smaller classes, especially when they did provide an estimate in the case of the City Council bill, Intro. 2374, that had far more rigorous requirements for class size.  The latest version of the capital plan approved by the City Council in June cut 22,000 new seats from the plan adopted in June 2021, without any explanation of why fewer seats will be needed, especially given that more than 300,000 students are enrolled in overcrowded schools.

Nor did the IBO brief take into account the potential cost savings from smaller classes, including lowering remediation costs and referrals to special education.

In any case, the conclusions of this brief reinforce the need for the city to start moving now on a realistic, effective class size reduction plan as quickly as possible, and to quickly reverse their planned shrinkage of teaching staff in order to meet the five-year timeline required in the law.

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