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New York City's Public School System Is Wavering. How Do We Fix It?

By Luca Cetorelli ’24

New York City's PS 64 (Photo Credit: The New York Times)
New York City's PS 64 (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

The ongoing pandemic is forcing cities and states across the country to cut funding for departments. In New York City, chronically underfunded public schools are seeing budget cuts that are bound to affect the 1.1 million students citywide who are part of the public education system.

The city has suffered a $9 billion loss in revenue, and as a result, City Council members are being forced to make tough decisions regarding the distribution of the city budget. In early July, City Council released its $88.1 billion 2021 fiscal year budget. The Department of Education saw a $400 million budget cut in addition to the $125 million cuts from last year.

In an email to public school teachers, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education Richard Carranza wrote: “New York City is the economic, educational, and cultural heartbeat of our state and nation—and has been at the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. Nurturing the success of our students is crucial to our nation’s future. We are depending on state and federal leaders to come through for us. We cannot bear the burden alone.”

New York City simply does not have enough money for the Department of Education; however, there are two ways we can bring in the funds needed to reform our school system.

Number one: divest from the school to prison pipeline. The school to prison pipeline is a system that New York City schools have adopted to reprimand students for the smallest misdemeanors.

95% of the 3.3 million suspensions per year are for non-violent offenses, such as disruptiveness and acting disrespectfully. According to the American Civil Liberties Union: “Approximately 72 percent of children in the United States will have experienced at least one major stressful event — such as witnessing violence, experiencing abuse, or experiencing the loss of a loved one — before the age of 18.” This trauma translates into behavioral differences at home and, more importantly, at school. When a child who has experienced trauma has a mental breakdown during school, more often than not, they are dealt with by police officers rather than counselors and social workers.

According to the Department of Education, currently, there are more than five thousand police officers in New York City public schools, compared to the measly one thousand social workers. For every 357 students, there is one counselor. Bringing in more counselors and getting rid of police in schools would not only solve an issue of mental health but would also help to solve an issue of race.

Students of color are disproportionately suspended more than their white peers. According to the Department of Education for Civil Rights, black female students are four times more likely to be suspended than white female students. Police officers are eight times more likely to intervene in a situation involving a black student, and four times more likely with a Latinx student. Of the millions of annual suspensions, black and Latinx students make up an astounding 90% of them.

Students who have received some sort of suspension are three times more likely to end up in prison.

Divesting from the school to prison pipeline would open up an estimated $400 million at the bare minimum, and it would solve an issue of systemic racism in our school system.

Number two: levying higher taxes on the rich. In 2011, Warren Buffet made the astonishing announcement that workers in his office were paying higher tax rates than he was. He said that the $7 million he paid in taxes was just 17.4% of his taxable income. The twenty people working in his office paid an average rate of 36%.

According to the New York Times, the total tax rate (Federal, State, and Local) on the rich has risen to about 23% since then. However, this number pales in comparison to the 70% rate in 1950 and 47% in 1980.

There are several propositions to solve this disparity, one of which is a new tax proposed by progressive New York lawmakers. The tax is part of the “Make Billionaires Pay” campaign, a movement growing in support, which would bring in an astounding $5.5 billion annually. However, the bill faces one strong opponent.

Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo has voiced his opposition to the newly proposed tax. Governor Cuomo claimed that a statewide tax would only cause billionaires to move to a state with lower tax rates. He says that rather than imposing this in New York, we should work to get it passed on a federal level.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we mustn’t forget about our children. America has suffered an economic standstill, but we should work towards an education system that feels the least of its impact.

We cannot expect to raise a competent and educated generation without an equally competent educational institution. If we truly believe in a bright future for our youth, then we must work together to invest more funding in our students.


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