David Banks may not have made much progress on mayoral control in Albany

During his testimony at an education budget hearing, it didn’t seem like the New York City schools chancellor’s message was getting through.

New York City schools Chancellor David Banks faced tough questions from state lawmakers at an education hearing.

New York City schools Chancellor David Banks faced tough questions from state lawmakers at an education hearing. Screenshot of joint legislative hearing/New York State Legislature

New York City schools Chancellor David Banks’ Thursday trip to Albany was supposed to yield support for mayoral control of schools, but state lawmakers at a joint budget hearing on education questioned the efficacy of extending the status quo in the city’s education system.

Banks’ requests for funding and four more years of mayoral control were met instead with questions about New York City’s budget cuts and class sizes. He and his team weren’t met with hostility, but state lawmakers were curious where taxpayer money was going. Clouding the whole affair was a looming fight between Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature over proposed changes to the Foundation Aid formula used to fund schools. In Hochul’s new proposal, New York City would see a bump in funding while many school districts in the state would see reductions.

“We sent you a lot of money over the past several years, for the students of New York, and we’re happy to do that,” said Assembly Member Michael Benedetto of the Bronx. “Yet I have to admit, I’ve been dismayed when we hear charges that maybe we see in the press or hear from some of our friends in unions, that schools are being cut and programs are being cut, it’s very disturbing to hear.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams cut $547 million from the city Education Department budget in November as part of citywide rollbacks. The budget reductions slashed funding for universal pre-K, which already had payment and enrollment issues, and summer school programming.

Banks disagreed with that representation and called it “right-sizing.” Adams has since restored some cuts.

Coupled with overall concerns with class sizes and learning loss, there were growing calls for mayoral control of New York City schools to end. State Department of Education Commissioner Betty Rosa testified before Banks and said some funding was withheld over New York City’s noncompliance with class size guidelines. Banks and his staff recalled it differently.

“There were some questions that were then raised as part of a natural process, and that took only one or two weeks, and at the end of the two weeks, the funds were released,” Banks said.

State Sen. John Liu recognized that the New York City Department of Education had made strides in recent years, but he stressed that other programs can’t be prioritized over a “sound basic education.” Liu said overcrowded classrooms were not an example of that and added Foundation Aid should be used to address class sizes.

Banks said several times in his testimony that New York City was making progress in addressing class sizes but there would be “trade-offs.”

“Even as chancellor, or even the mayor, you don’t have the ability to just pay for things that you think are very valuable,” Liu said.

“What we’re simply saying,” Banks replied, “is there are lots of other programs that people in the community do think are very very valuable and they say ‘we don’t want it to be one versus the other.’”

Other lawmakers asked about how the department was combating learning loss and an influx of migrant students but ultimately the issue of mayoral control didn’t go away.

Banks said with all he and Adams’ administration had achieved, they should continue to control schools, but to lawmakers, the problem went beyond him or Adams.

Liu said that based on what he’s heard from constituents it’s not necessarily an issue of who is running schools but the shifting priorities that come with each administration, some calling it “whiplash.” “All these changes, it’s not actually good for the long-term stability of our public school system,” he said.