NYC school initiatives face $700 million gap as federal COVID funding dries up: advocates

Key education initiatives at the city’s public schools could be cut back next year as federal COVID-19 stimulus funding dries up, according to a new report Thursday.

Analysis by Advocates for Children of New York found that high-priority initiatives — such as supporting students with dyslexia and adding bilingual programs when asylum-seeking students enroll in city schools — will be funded with federal funding, which is scheduled to expire in October 2024 .

The group estimates that it will cost $700 million a year to sustain all educational initiatives.

“We cannot undo the progress that has been made,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of the nonprofit Advocates for Children of New York. “Students in New York City are counting on city, state, and federal policymakers to work together to ensure our schools have the resources they need to take a massive step backwards in the way we teach and teach to avoid services offered to them.”

Other initiatives using the federal funding include an expanded summer program, community schools offering health care and adult education, and hiring hundreds more social workers, the report said.

Federal stimulus funding during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 resulted in a $7 billion windfall for the Department of Education.

The department has at times been criticized for spending the funds too slowly, but the money is expected to “run dry” in October 2024, according to the Advocates for Children report.

Mayor Eric Adams has underscored the need for “fiscal discipline” in the face of an uncertain economy and dwindling federal aid.

“To keep moving forward while maintaining the programs and services we value, we must be careful and make the most of our resources,” Adams said in his budget address last week.

Its preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins July calls for $30.7 billion for the Department of Education, down from the $31.2 billion the agency plans to spend in the current fiscal year. Adams said the budget cut was the result of less stimulus money and the elimination of vacancies.

The Adams administration has already announced that it will scale back its ambitions for 3-K and maintain the current number of slots, rather than expand them. School Chancellor David Banks argues that former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration failed to adjust seating to meet needs, leaving many unused. Many city council members oppose the decision not to expand the program as planned.

The analysis paints an even bleaker picture for 3-K. Advocates for Children noted that the city will still need $100 million more per year just to keep the 3-K program at its current level.

Adam’s signature educational policy, which provides more resources for students with dyslexia, also draws on federal funding, the report said. According to the analysis, $7.4 million in federal money will fund universal screening of students for dyslexia, training for educators to identify reading disabilities, and other programs.

“Stimulus funding expires next year, and we are working closely with City Hall and our agency partners to find ways to sustain and build on the work we have been doing to empower our students and schools,” said Department of Education spokeswoman Lyle Jenna. “We appreciate Advocates for Children’s focus on these important initiatives and will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to invest in and strengthen our schools.”