Class size law will help NYC’s high-poverty schools, teachers union says

Hundreds of thousands of children who attend high-poverty schools face large class sizes that outpace new state limits, according to a new analysis Tuesday from New York City’s teachers union.

The United Federation of Teachers appeared to be responding to frequent criticism from top education officials that the recent law capping class sizes across the city will funnel money into popular schools that attract higher-income families while sidelining the neediest children at under-enrolled schools.

“It will drive a lot of current dollars … towards some of our better-off communities,” said Emma Vadhera, chief operating officer of the public schools, at a parent-led education council earlier this month.

“And [move them] away from our lower-income communities after the city’s tried pretty hard to really think about how we prioritize equity in those ways.”

Regulations limit kindergarten through third-grade classes to 20 students per class; fourth-through-eighth-grade classes to 23 students, and high school to 25 students. A fifth of classrooms had to come into compliance with the law this fall and each year after that until caps are fully phased in by 2028.

The analysis pushes back against a growing narrative that lower-income families stand to benefit least under the new thresholds.

At more than half of local high-poverty schools, the majority of class sizes are larger than the law permits, the survey found. There are nearly 1,300 schools that qualify for federal poverty education funding in the city.

That translates into more than 322,000 city schoolchildren languishing in classrooms the state considers too large to provide a basic education, the union said.

At 40 high-poverty schools, every classroom is larger than the state limits, the union found. Nearly all, 97% of qualifying schools, have at least one class that exceeds the caps.

The UFT is expected to present its findings Tuesday morning at a press conference at Brooklyn Landmark Elementary School in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

The Education Department analyzes the data differently by comparing schools within the system to each other.

A city analysis released last week found schools with the largest shares of kids from low-income households have more classes already small enough for a sound education. Close to two-thirds of classes in schools in the highest quartile of economic need comply with the law this school year, compared to a quarter of those in schools in the lowest quartile.

But the data is trending in the wrong direction if the city intends to follow the law as it progresses.

The percent of classrooms at or below the caps fell by 2% this school year, after city education officials changed their own rulebook. Over the summer, the city quietly reneged on a promise to help hold class sizes steady if they already met state thresholds.

“At a time when Albany has sent more money to New York City and has sought to correct a decades-long inequity by passing a law to lower New York City class sizes, City Hall is undermining that work by reducing support to students, educators, and school communities,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a statement last week.

Education officials estimate the law could cost up to $1.9 billion to hire additional teachers, at a time when Mayor Adams is directing the school system to slash its budget under at least two rounds of cuts.

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