The New York City Department of Education (DOE) is bracing for a potential massive loss in its budget after over 120,000 students and families have left the city’s public school system over the last five years.
The New York Post reports that the city’s Chancellor of Schools David Banks addressed the matter before the City Council’s Education Committee on Monday, warning that the decline in enrollment could negatively impact the system’s budget plans for the coming years.
“How many more will come back? We don’t know,” Banks said before the committee. “So we have to hope for the best but plan for the worst.”
“For our schools to deliver on their original promise of serving as the engine of the American dream, we will need to do things very differently in ways that build trust one big step at a time,” Banks continued. He suggested such proposals as turning the system’s focus to connecting students with the “real world” and “what matters to them,” while also increasing parental involvement and listening to their input more often.
“It is the biggest complaint that I’ve heard since I started as chancellor,” Banks explained. “Parents have felt unheard and disrespected.”
In anticipation of the coming blow to the city’s school budget, Banks suggested that the system spend between $160 million and $80 million of federal funding, rather than city funding.
However, some city council members pushed back on Banks’ rhetoric, pointing out deeper underlying problems with the schools themselves, such as the system’s infrastructure and poor state of many of the facilities.
“You want to bring them back, but the environment has to also be inviting,” said Rita Joseph, the City Councilor for District 40, a former teacher, and head of the Education Committee. “Most of them look like jails. They said the colors are terrible, the settings are horrible.”
Banks, in response, shifted the blame to his predecessor and claiming that the current problems were an “indictment” of the state the DOE was in when he took over.
“We’re also trying to be fiscally prudent as well, as we look at what these trends are demonstrating,” Banks continued. “So it is disturbing, and so we’ve got tough choices that we have to make here. How do we get families to re-engage, and to trust, and want to come back into our schools? That will solve a lot of these other financial issues that we have.”
The broader trend of declining enrollment at public schools began in 2020 and continued through 2021 with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Many schools shut down completely, then transitioned to “virtual learning” via remote technology, followed by “hybrid learning” that combined in-person schooling with remote education, all of which proved to be ineffective in administering education and set many students back in their learning capabilities.
In response, many parents turned to private and religious schools that were reopening much faster, or to simply homeschooling their children.