Warning of potential unintended consequences ahead, a new report from the New York City Independent Budget Office estimated that the city will likely need to hire around 17,700 teachers in order to comply with a new state law to lower class sizes in public schools over the next five years.
New York City’s class size restrictions have been the focal point of a fierce debate even after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed off on the measure in September. While the United Federation of Teachers and other supporters heralded the law’s approval, having long pointed to research suggesting smaller class sizes can boost student test scores and classroom engagement, the city has warned about the high costs of implementation and maintained there are more cost effective ways to improve education. The report, completed by IBO at the request of Sen. Robert Jackson, estimated that hiring the number of necessary teachers will likely eventually cost the city between $1.6 billion and $1.9 billion each year. That’s a higher number than the $1.3 billion sum released by the city this spring, although the city also estimated about $30 to $35 billion in additional expenses needed to build new schools or reconfigure old buildings.
Starting this coming school year, the law requires the city to begin capping kindergarten through third grade classes at 20 students, fourth through eighth grade classes at no more than 23 students, and high school classes at 25. An additional 20% of classes will need to be in compliance every year until 2028 when the requirements are fully phased in, although some schools can be deemed exempt by the education department and the principals and teachers’ unions.
The report reiterated what New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks have said about how the city shouldn’t have any trouble meeting requirements in the first two years of implementation. About 39% of city classrooms already meet the new requirements. The trouble, they’ve said, would come down the line when leaders would likely need to make some difficult decisions about where to allocate funds.
“For the next couple of years we are in good shape. We don’t think we are going to have any major issues in being able to comply with the law. By the time we hit the years three, four, and five, which the law allows for us to do, that’s when you are going to see a much greater cost,” Banks said in an interview with CBS New York last week. “We are going to have to build out new classrooms, new schools in order to be compliant … The cost that we are going to have to spend to do that are dollars we could use for other programs.”
While lawmakers didn’t specifically tie any additional funding to the bill, state lawmakers and other supporters have adamantly pushed back on claims that the mandate is unfunded. They have pointed to huge increases in state education aid that they say can and should pay for reducing class sizes.
Leonie Haimson, executive director of the group Class Size Matters, said it doesn’t seem like the education department has taken into account that some schools already have a high teacher to student ratio despite having large class sizes, meaning some schools could potentially reassign existing staff to classes without garnering additional costs. She criticized the city’s plan to eliminate currently vacant positions and urged Adams to swiftly hire additional teachers.
“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,” Haimson said in a statement.