New York mandate for smaller class sizes will cost taxpayers $2B a year

A new state law will force New York City to spend nearly $2 billion taxpayer funds annually on additional teaching positions.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in Sept. 2022,…

A new state law will force New York City to spend nearly $2 billion taxpayer funds annually on additional teaching positions.

The bill, which was signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in Sept. 2022, mandates smaller class sizes for public schools – no more than 20 students in K-3rd grade, 23 in 4-8th grade, and 25 in high school.

According to the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO), 53% of elementary classrooms and 95% of middle and high school classrooms are now considered oversized.

In order to comply with state law, NYC public schools will have to hire almost 18,000 teachers, IBO continues.

Since the starting salary for an NYC teacher is between $61,000 and $84,000, smaller class sizes will cost between $1.6 billion to $1.9 billion in salaries alone, per year.

“This class size reduction mandate comes with no additional revenue attached, at a time when schools are already seeing budget decreases from shrinking enrollment and facing the looming fiscal cliff of federal pandemic-relief funds expiring,” Emily D’Vertola, education policy analyst for The Empire Center for Public Policy, told The Lion.

Conventional wisdom claims that smaller class sizes benefit students, and the American Federation for Teachers – the nation’s second largest teachers’ union – recommends classes be between 15 to 19 students.

However, not everyone agrees smaller classes automatically lead to better outcomes.

“Reduced class size may or may not benefit students,” D’Vertola says. “The truth is, many schools achieve high results and maintain a safe environment with larger class sizes, and many struggle to do so even with smaller class sizes.”  

Statewide, despite spending nearly $26,000 per student, less than half of students were proficient in English and only 38% proficient in math.  

Scores in New York City aren’t much better, despite a staggering $38,000 per pupil in spending.  

City officials had mixed reactions to the prospect of hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes. 

“For decades, New York City parents and teachers have been fighting for lower class sizes,” said Michael Mulgrew, head of the city’s teachers’ union, when the bill passed. “We now have something to celebrate.”  

However, Mulgrew previously criticized the measure for “missing a strategy for implementation” and said the NYC Department of Education hadn’t created a “real plan.”  

Mayor Eric Adams was also concerned about the financial burden the new mandate would impose, especially since federal stimulus funds were being used up.  

Besides the enormous expense, it may be difficult to find teachers to hire. 

“NYC already had over 7,500 teacher vacancies before the class size reduction mandate was implemented,” D’Vertola told The Lion. “This will exacerbate that problem. 

“It is surprising to see [the New York State Education Department] funnel resources into an arbitrary mandate on class size, rather than asking meaningful questions about what is working and what isn’t within all schools,” D’Vertola continued. “Enrollment and student achievement are declining, proficiency expectations are being lowered, students are not leaving the system prepared for life, and New York is behind the times in so many ways when it comes to education policy (especially when compared to other states).”  

Although three-quarters of NYC students graduate high school, only one-third of them are considered college ready. 

New York is one of the few states with no school choice program.