Cut Scores

UFT survey details how years of budget cuts hurt city schools

Union officials presented findings from a survey outside P.S. 1 in Chinatown today.

Years of budget cuts have slashed academic programs, increased class sizes, and shortchanged teachers of classroom supplies, according to results of a survey conducted by the United Federation of Teachers.

The cuts hit after-school programs and elementary class sizes particularly hard, according to the survey’s findings, which were compiled from anecdotal accounts from UFT chapter leaders at more than half of the city’s roughly 1,700 schools.

The city’s budget environment has been grim since the start of the economic recession in 2008. As the city’s costliest agency, the Department of Education – and especially its individual school budgets – has shouldered a hefty burden of the cuts. This year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott cut school budgets by an average of 2.4 percent, or $178 million. That followed 4 percent cuts in 2010.

The survey confirms what the UFT had already known – and what the DOE had already had acknowledged – about class sizes: They are up. In September, a UFT study reported that 7,000 classes citywide were too crowded.

Three out of four elementary schools reported that class sizes were on the rise, with some classes increasing by more than 10 students, according to one anecdote.

“We’re used to 18-21 students in a class. Now we’re at 31 and 34, with 28 in a kindergarten class,” a chapter leader from Mosaic Preparatory Academy in East Harlem replied on the school’s questionnaire.

More than 60 percent of all schools in the survey reported that after-school programs had been cut. The survey also documented significant drops in spending on textbooks and instructional supplies.

The survey was intended to put a microscope on how the cuts were affecting school operations and pressured elected officials to put an end to the cuts, according to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who presented the results at a press conference today.

Standing outside P.S. 1 in Chinatown, surrounded by some of the school’s parents and teachers, Mulgrew said students were “being hammered” by the cuts.

“What we are hoping today is that all city, state, and elected officials understand what these cuts are doing to the children,” he said.

City and DOE officials have blamed the smaller budgets on state-level cuts. Last year, the city lost $812 million in state education funding and $853 million in federal funding.

Responding to Mulgrew, DOE spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz suggested he spend more time in Albany pressuring legislators to restore those cuts this year.

“Last year he stepped aside and remained silent, and the result was massive cuts in state and federal funding we couldn’t fully cover,” Ravitz said in a statement.

“We’re glad Mr. Mulgrew now understands that budget cuts have a real impact on students, and we can only hope that this year, he makes a clear statement to Albany that they must not cut our education funding again,” Ravitz added.

Much of the UFT’s budget advocacy last year focused on Mayor Bloomberg’s threat to lay off more than 6,000 teachers, a threat made before state budget cuts were announced.

Walcott has already projected another 2 percent in cuts to next year’s DOE budget. In a series of public statements, Walcott said he expects the DOE’s central administration to sustain the majority of the cuts.

All of the union’s findings are below:


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”