David Banks on pre-K, 3-K budget restoration: “I have great confidence”

The New York City schools chancellor warned of inevitable “trade-offs” as City Council members grilled officials over budget cuts.

New York City Council Member Rita Joseph led an Education Committee hearing a couple weeks ago.

New York City Council Member Rita Joseph led an Education Committee hearing a couple weeks ago. William Alatriste/NYC Council Media Unit

Gazing at sunnier skies in New York City’s fiscal future, Mayor Eric Adams has over the past few months reversed course on some previously planned and proposed budget cuts. In early January, he walked back planned cuts to community schools, litter basket service and the next class of police recruits, citing better than expected tax revenue and plans to reduce spending on services for asylum-seekers.

At the City Council’s preliminary hearing on the education budget on Monday, schools Chancellor David Banks suggested that another reversal of planned cuts – this time to the city’s pre-K and 3-K program – could soon be on their way from the Adams administration.

“We share the concerns of everyone around early childhood,” Banks said, in reference to $170 million cuts to the program providing free preschool seats. “I am fighting like heck to make sure that those cuts are restored. And I have great confidence that in the coming weeks, we will have great news around early childhood.”

Spokespeople for City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking for confirmation of any plans to restore early childhood education funding.

Banks called the cuts to early childhood programs “extremely hurtful,” but he also stood by previous assertions from City Hall that pre-K and 3-K seats have been misallocated. While there are vacant seats in some areas, in other parts of the city there are not enough seats for the number of families who want to enroll. The consulting firm Accenture was hired by the city to compile a report on where seats are needed around the city, and Banks said on Monday that the delivery of that report will shed more light on how seats should be allocated.

The budget cuts to the city’s preschool program aren’t the only challenge that New York City schools – and students and families – are facing. Those include the mandate to lower class sizes over the next five years, which the Department of Education estimates will add an additional $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion in teacher costs, as well as the additional needs that have come with the influx of students from asylum-seeking families since last spring.

There’s also the looming cliff created by expiring federal stimulus funds that could leave a range of programs – including special education for preschool students, community schools, bilingual education, liaisons for students living in shelters and more – facing an uncertain future.

“The question now remains, if we believe the need still exists for investment in these programs. The answer is a resounding yes,” Council Member Rita Joseph, who chairs the Education Committee, said in her opening remarks of the programs receiving stimulus funding.

Banks expressed his concerns with council members over those issues and the programs that will be vulnerable to expiring federal funds, but said that without an injection of replacement funding, there will have to be “trade-offs.”

Banks welcomed the council’s involvement in figuring out how to allocate finite resources. In his opening remarks, Banks briefly flipped the script, posing the kind of question to the council that members often ask of administration officials. “What do you believe we should stop supporting at the current levels if we do not get the additional funding?” he asked. “This notion that we can maintain all of these excellent programs without any trade-offs is, in my judgment, unrealistic.”