NYC schools losing enrollment facing midyear budget cuts; programs and personnel at risk

New York City public schools that enrolled fewer students than expected will face budget cuts in the middle of this school year, likely forcing mid-year reductions in programs or personnel to offset the shortfall.

The policy, announced Wednesday by education officials, will force principals to give back money to the city while classes are already in session — the first time they will have to do so since before the pandemic. It comes as federal aid during the COVID crisis that was covering budget shortfalls is ending later this year.

Compounding the problem, the Education Department may also be facing up to a 15% system-wide cut under plans outlined by Mayor Adams to respond to the migrant crisis, which could shrink the budget by $2 billion if implemented in full.

“As NYCPS [the New York City public schools] navigates the current fiscal landscape, we’ve made the necessary decision to revert to our pre-COVID-19 budgeting process,” said Press Secretary Nathaniel Styer.

Schools are funded at the start of each year based on enrollment projections.

Those who register more students in the fall than projected receive additional dollars after kids are officially counted on Oct. 31, while — in pre-pandemic practice — schools with fewer students than anticipated lose funding. The model is designed to shift dollars to follow the students.

Many of the schools likely to lose funding were given a reprieve at the beginning of the school year due to a deal between the mayor and the council that pumped an additional $180 million into the system. But Adams did not rule out scaling back some of those dollars at individual schools as the year progressed.

“It is never our desire … to do any sort of midyear cuts,” said Mayor Adams in June while unveiling a deal on the city budget. “We want to stabilize our education system.”

“There is no desire to do so, [but] there’s no guarantees in life,” he added.

Education officials expected Wednesday that many schools will exceed their enrollment projections, which were calculated in the spring, and receive new funding for more students.

How many schools may lose funding will not be known until after all the students are counted.

Enrollment at many schools has been bolstered by an estimated 12,000 asylum-seeking students who have enrolled in the city schools this fall, a figure based on the number of children living in temporary housing.

“If schools see an increase in students at any point in the school year, we will push additional funding to them to ensure they have what they need to serve each of their students,” Styer said.

That tally is expected to rise as the number of migrants arriving to the city has grown to roughly 4,000 some weeks. The Education Department doled out $17 million to principals so far to adjust for enrollment increases, but schools have long reported those funds coming on a delay.

Panel for Educational Policy member Naveed Hassan, the city’s version of a school board, said several parent representatives are pushing for long-term funding and cuts to wasteful spending to ;preserve pandemic-era initiatives like boosts to school budgets.

“We need to explicitly grapple with this and name potential revenue sources for these critical services for our children,” he said.