Big Apple public schools have hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 aid leftover from last school year, according to an analysis by the city Comptroller’s Office released Monday.
In total, the Department of Education has $4.4 billion in stimulus cash that it must spend by the 2024-25 school year, when the funds expire, Comptroller Brad Lander said.
The comptroller’s year-end fiscal review found that of $3.02 billion the DOE budgeted for the 2021-22 school year, an estimated $505.6 million in the time-sensitive funds has yet to be committed.
Lander argued that amount was more than enough to cover controversial cuts to individual school budgets tied to plunging enrollment.
“Preparing for the future means both fully funding our schools to help our kids recover from the pandemic and getting our fiscal house in order for the possibility of a recession,” Lander said in a statement.
“Our year-end analysis shows we can do both. There’s no fiscal need to shortchange our kids,” he added.
Mayor Eric Adams and his administration introduced the at least $215-million reduction to schools in February, partially phasing in a pre-pandemic policy of tying principals’ budgets to student enrollment, which has been plummeting.
Officials say the approach, commonly used by school districts across the country, is necessary as the public system continues to bleed out students. Many families are looking to other options, from leaving the city to trying non-traditional education like charter schools or homeschool.
Adams has called it “dysfunctional” for the city to pay the same amount for a school system serving fewer students, and warned of an impending crisis if the Big Apple does not start weaning schools off the expiring federal dollars.
“We’re about to fall off a financial cliff once the stimulus dollars run out,” he said last month.
Lander’s latest analysis estimated the cuts to the Fair Student Funding formula, the primary source of principals’ budgets for teachers and other school essentials, is closer to $469 million. The formula also projects that principals will spend less money on experienced teachers, lowering the baseline amount allocated per pupil at the school level.
Dozens of other sources of funding get added throughout the year, according to City Hall.
“Every single student in our school system remains at 100% fair student funding,” said a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office. “We will continue to work to provide schools with the resources they need.”
Advocates for restoring the cuts have asked the mayor to use the COVID aid to support students and teachers as schools contend with the fallout of pandemic-era learning.
“City Hall and the DOE need to come up with a long-term, transparent plan to support and help our children overcome the impact of the pandemic,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “The money is there. They need to act.”
The DOE referred a request for how the agency plans to utilize unspent funds to City Hall.
Officials broadly stated that funding has been allocated to other programs and needs — and that aid allocated to school budgets would need to be taken away from other initiatives.