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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

NYC will spend billions to cut class sizes: Who'll get the good teachers?

State-mandated cuts in class sizes primarily will benefit New York City students in low-poverty schools, report Alex Zimmerman and Matt Barnum on Chalkbeat. Most classes in schools with the neediest students already meet the new rules.

Photo: Yan Krukau/Pexels

Worse, high-poverty schools, already having trouble finding teachers, could be forced to cut corners even more to get an adult in every reduced-size classrooms. Schools with more advantaged students will be able to hire qualified teachers from schools with hard-to-teach students.

This is what happened when California spent billions to reduce class sizes in 1996. In affluent communities, students learned more. In low-income communities, the decline in teacher quality erased the benefits.

"Under the previous rules, classes were generally capped at 30 to 34 students, depending on the grade, with 25 students in kindergarten," write Zimmerman and Barnum. Under the new law, which goes into effect over the next five years, "classes may not exceed 20 students in kindergarten through third grade, 23 students for grades 4-8, and 25 students in high school." P.E. and theater classes are limited to 40 students.

Only 38 percent of classes are larger than the caps at the highest-poverty schools, 69 percent at low- to mid-poverty schools, reports Chalkbeat.

The state mandate, which comes with no extra funding, is expected to cost $1.3 billion to $1.9 billion a year in teacher pay, and billions more if crowded schools need more classroom space. That's money that won't be available for other priorities, such as tutoring.

“Maybe principals have decided they want slightly larger class sizes [in exchange] for a math coach,” said Matthew Chingos, an Urban Institute researcher who analyzed the potential impact. They won't be able to make that tradeoff.

New York City's traditional public schools are spending more to educate fewer students, notes Matt Welch in Reason. In just four years, the system has lost more than 136,000 students while increasing the budget by $4 billion. The class-reduction law will set off "an expensive hiring spree."

The district estimates it spends more than $31,000 per student, but that's probably low, writes Welch.

"The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog, in April put the estimated per-student cost this fall at $38,000." It projected "more than $41,000 in fiscal year 2026." Adding "likely collective bargaining costs, per-student spending would reach nearly $44,000 in fiscal year 2026."

New York City charters increased enrollment by 9 percent over the past three years, he notes. "The taxpayer portion of per-student costs at the privately run charters is less than $18,000, though they typically receive space at existing schools, and have access to additional outside funding."

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