DiNapoli: NYC DOE faces significant challenges to close the COVID success gap


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The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the achievement gap that exists for students across the country. Unprecedented federal funding offers New York City the opportunity to begin closing this gap for more than one million students attending New York City public schools. This opportunity cannot be wasted. According to a report released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the city should avoid creating new risks, while failing to address existing risks, in the Department of Education’s budget. of New York City (DOE).

The city has expanded existing programs and implemented new ones to address the education gaps and inequities created by the COVID-19 pandemic, but several of them are expected to last long after sources have been exhausted. Federal Funding at Fiscal Year (FY) 2025 If revenues do not develop better than expected, the city may be forced to cut services or find new sources of revenue or funding partners.

“The faculty and staff of the New York City School, as well as students and families have demonstrated resilience and resources in the face of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said DiNapoli. “It is essential that the city’s education ministry is clear on how it will help students recover from the impact of the pandemic and address inequalities in the delivery of education services. The historic federal investment has met some short-term challenges, but it will not last forever. I urge the ministry to face future fiscal risks and commit to prudent long-term financial planning, in order to ensure its ability to maintain high-quality education services over the long term.

DiNapoli’s report details DOE’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic’s impact on attendance and enrollment, difficulties in measuring student achievement and learning losses, and risks budget that results from dependence on federal aid. The DOE is expected to receive more than $ 8 billion in federal emergency funding between fiscal years 2021 and 2025, including $ 6.96 billion in education-related emergency federal funds between 2020 and 2024, $ 721 million CARES Act allocations and additional unrestricted federal emergency funding.

DOE budget continues to increase amid declining enrollment

The DOE’s budget for fiscal 2022 reached $ 37.7 billion and represents more than 38% of the city’s total spending. Even before the pandemic, the DOE faced recurring risks to its budget. Long-standing weaknesses in the DOE’s spending forecast for charter school tuition, services for students with disabilities, and student transportation have consistently forced the city to add hundreds of millions of dollars more than forecast in the department’s final budgets. The biggest risk to the DOE’s budget in the years leading up to the pandemic was the out-of-year growth projections for the city’s official education aid.

After significant fiscal uncertainty throughout the first half of fiscal 2021, federal aid and state legislation supported DOE’s budget for fiscal 2022. DOE will use over 40% of federal aid ( $ 3.3 billion) to fund new programs or extensions of existing programs over the next four years, including $ 2 billion to complete the city-wide expansion of the city’s 3-K program . However, the new programming will create more than $ 1 billion per year in recurring costs that have no identified funding source when federal aid expires in fiscal 2025, forcing the city to find other sources. income or cut programs.

Other initiatives funded in part by federal aid during the fiscal plan period include additional special education services ($ 532 million), expansion of mental health services for students ($ 300 million) and an expansion of the community schools program. Finally, the DOE will spend $ 552 million to restore programs that were cut to save money in previous financial plans. The recurring fiscal risks that existed before the pandemic remain unresolved in the financial plan after the years.

Distance learning, learning loss and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for school districts across the country. The DOE, educators, students and families have had to deal with changing directions, long-term school closures, models of distance and blended learning, and new precautions and health and safety protocols.

Distance learning allowed the department to quickly switch to virtual education, but questions about its effectiveness arose and highlighted the disparities between students across the system, as the department acknowledged. Students with disabilities have suffered disproportionately from distance learning as their services have been disrupted. While focus naturally changed rapidly, the inconsistency and rapid changes in curriculum compounded the negative effects on student learning.

The impact of the pandemic on education has been disproportionate. African-American and Latino students, who were less likely to have access to supportive learning environments at home, were hit the hardest, according to a number of studies. Attendance rates at the start of the pandemic and in the spring of 2021, especially among isolated students only, suggest that these impacts also disproportionately affected majority non-white communities in New York City.

Many students lacked the digital devices and internet connectivity to effectively participate in distance learning, especially in low-income communities. The city purchased 511,000 mobile devices with data plans that were provided to students on demand. However, initial demand quickly outstripped supply, and many families reported delays in receiving the devices.

Student attendance and enrollment have declined considerably. As of spring 2020, only 85.2% of students were taking online courses, up from 91% to 92% before the pandemic, another factor leading to learning losses. Every percentage point lost represents more than 10,000 students who missed classes in New York City. Student enrollments also fell 4.9% in the 2020-2021 school year, and the city expects only half of the students to return.

DiNapoli made several recommendations for the DOE to continue to provide safe and high-quality education in the future, including:

  • Ensure frequent, regular and clear communication with staff, parents and students on its decisions and operational protocols.
  • Evaluate student progress to determine if new programs are helping students overcome learning losses and close the achievement gap.
  • Leverage DOE infrastructure to expand access to vaccines to younger children to help provide protection against the virus and increase system-wide safety when students return to school buildings .
  • Recognize existing fiscal risks and commit to prudent long-term financial planning to identify resources to ensure the continued delivery of necessary services to students.

Report
New York Department of Education’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic


Track state and local government spending at Open Book New York. As part of State Comptroller DiNapoli’s open data initiative, search millions of state and local government financial records, track state contracts, and find the most requested data.

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Norma A. Roth