Advocates Urge State Board of Regents to Ensure NYC Compliance With Class Size Law

New York City is already out of a compliance with a 2022 class size law according to a letter to the State’s Board of Regents submitted by Education Law Center, the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) and Class Size Matters (CSM). The organizations alerted state officials to serious omissions in the City’s class size plan, and, in subsequent comments on proposed regulations, recommended amendments to guarantee timely implementation of the law’s requirements.

“Ensuring compliance with the new law is particularly critical as recently released data shows enrollment increases in New York City public schools,” said Wendy Lecker, ELC Senior Attorney who contributed to the letter and comments. “Even more worrying, the class size data released at the same time as the enrollment numbers reveals increases in class sizes for the second year in a row.”

New York City’s class size law is an amendment to the Contracts for Excellence (C4E) Law and mandates caps on class size to be phased in over five years in all City public schools:

  • 20 students per class in kindergarten through grade three;
  • 23 students per class in grades four through eight;
  • 25 students per class in high school academic subjects.

While a statutorily mandated timeline for the plan is designed to ensure meaningful and timely public input, this year, New York City’s plan was finalized on September 29, more than two months after the deadline. Moreover, as noted in the letter to the Regents, the plan does not contain any “promise to make any policy changes to be able to comply with the law, it also does not explain how the [New York City Department of Education] will make efforts to lower class size first in the highest need schools, nor does it outline any steps it will take to reduce class size in any schools.”

The letter sets forth specific recommendations for revising the City’s class size plan, including requiring the City’s Department of Education to:

  • Outline in which high-poverty schools class sizes will be lowered first and set specific goals as to what percentages of classes citywide will achieve the mandated caps next fall and in each of the following years and by means of which policy levers;
  • Commit to halting the shrinkage of the K12 teaching force;
  • Change enrollment practices to eliminate overcrowding that prevents class size reduction when there are underutilized schools nearby;
  • Expand, together with the School Construction Authority, the number of seats in the five-year capital plan to ensure there is sufficient space to meet the smaller class size caps in years three through five, especially as it takes at least four years to site and build a new school;
  • Suspend all new co-locations, school closings and other significant changes in school utilization, until and unless a rigorous analysis shows that there is sufficient space for all existing district public schools in the building to lower class size to mandated levels.

Strikingly, a CSM analysis of the available data shows a continued decrease in the percentage of classes that meet the caps in the class size law. For example, in 2021-22, 40.9% of K-3 classes met the cap. This year, just 31.3% of K-3 classes meet the cap.

ELC, AQE, and CSM also submitted comments on the Regents’ proposed regulations implementing the class size law. The organizations noted the regulations fail to include the statutorily required timeline for submission of class size reduction plans and urged the Regents to promulgate regulations that “ensure that the mandatory public input process has the potential to be meaningful and affect the city’s development and implementation of its class size plan, as well as the manner in which its C4E funds are spent.”

In its landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decision, New York’s highest court ruled that small class sizes are an essential element of a constitutional “sound basic education.” The class size law enacted last year is a culmination of years of persistent advocacy by parents, teachers and activists to ensure that the CFE promise is fulfilled for students across New York City.

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