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Back to School in a Recession

September 14, 2011

by Norm Fruchter

The 2011-12 school year will be a wrenching experience for most students and their families served by the city school system. The recession generated by the 2008 fiscal crisis is not abating. From the raft of statistics detailing the recession’s toll on the city’s most vulnerable children, consider one stark example. The number of city students from homeless families has quadrupled in the past year, from approximately 10,000 in 2008 to more than 40,000 in 2010. Yet because of state and city budget cuts, the school year is beginning with several thousand fewer teachers, school aides and the auxiliary workers who assist these families. As a result, the city’s teaching force faces higher class sizes, fewer resources available for classroom materials, and the termination of critical after-school and student support programs. Principals face a hiring freeze, reduced school budgets, and the loss of critical support personnel.

Even before the recession deepened its grip on the city, only 23% of the school system’s 2010 high school graduates were prepared to succeed in the city’s colleges (and only 12% of the city’s Black and Latino graduates). That percentage will undoubtedly worsen in succeeding years as the recession erodes educational quality in the city’s schools.

This escalating damage to the city’s schooling demands a citywide response. We need an emergency mobilization of the city’s public and corporate power and resources to create extended instructional time and individualized educational experiences across the city system. One of the few potential benefits of mayoral control is the mayor’s capacity to organize and coordinate city agencies to respond to the educational, social and emotional needs of the city’s students. That capacity, thus far not utilized, is now desperately needed. The Mayor should also follow Warren Buffet’s lead and use his clout in the corporate world to extend the millionaire’s tax, which will bring NY State more than $4 billion a year to preserve needed city services, shield the schools and the city’s children from further damaging cuts, and ensure some degree of shared sacrifice from citizens who can most afford it. The extraordinary bad times this recession is creating call for extraordinary responses to secure a future for our city’s students.

Norm Fruchter is a senior policy analyst at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform

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