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Pol Position: New York City Budget Breakdown

Late on Monday night, the City Council voted 44-6 for this year’s $101 billion budget.
Several progressive members of the caucus—-including Chi Osé, Tiffany Cabán, Sandy Nurse, Charles Barron and more—-voted against the legislation for either giving too much money to the NYPD or not spending enough on issues such as housing or sanitation.

Education
One of the biggest snafus in this years budget process was the contention between the city council and the mayor’s proposed $215 million cut in education spending. The $215 million in cuts revert to pre-pandemic policies of reallocating resources based off on enrollment. Recent figures show that up to 120,000 students have left the public school system over the last five years.
The cuts come off the heels of new class size legislation from Albany. Critics of the cuts say the decreased funding will make the class size mandate harder to actualize.
Even more progressive members who voted for the budget expressed dismay with the budget cuts.
“But this budget also fell short in serious ways, and we will need to spend the next few months fighting like hell to address its deficiencies on housing and especially education,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Lincoln Restler, said in a statement.

Green spaces
The budget prioritizes green and clean spaces in the city, despite Parks not attaining one percent of the budget as Mayor Adams stumped on during the campaign trail.
A total of $44.1 million is in the pipeline for Parks Department maintenance and summer workforce, as well as $3.5 million in funding for organic drop-off sites, $2.6 million for “green thumb” gardens, $2.5 million for forest management, and $2 million for tree stump removal.
An investment in cleaner streets through the restoration of $18.5 million in sanitation cuts will also mean more frequent trash pick-up and cleanings.
“With huge funding increases to the Department of Sanitation and Parks Department, our neighborhoods will be able to breathe a little easier,” Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez said in a statement.

Police
This year’s budget brings a $5.5 million operating budget for the NYPD, with the Council touting “fiscal responsibility” by curbing the growth of wasteful spending on the criminal justice system.
The budget brings some transparency to the fiscal operations of the NYPD, by establishing 18 new units of appropriation, or the purpose for what funds are doled out to which agency, for the first time in Council history.
The Council also got rid of a proposal that would have increased the headcount at the Department of Correction by 578 positions. Nevertheless, some members of the Council were still upset with “bloated levels” of funding for policing.
“Without moving away from violent, oppressive systems, we are undermining the very investments I am so glad we managed to include in this budget, and ensuring that their potential positive impacts are nowhere near as substantial as they could and should be,” said Councilmember Tiffany Cabán.

Reserves
This year’s budget set a record $8.3 billion in reserve funds—-an important step as financial analysts have warned of a looming recession. Specifically, Mayor Adams said at Friday’s budget announcement that he was adding $750 million to the Rainy Day Fund, $750 million to retired health benefits trust, and $500 million to the general reserve. Adams also increased the labor reserves by $1.25 million, amid upcoming union negotiations and rising inflation.
Comptroller Brad Lander said, in a statement, that while the reserves were a substantial amount they still fell short of his office’s recommended $1.8 billion.
“Going forward, the City should adopt a set formula to guarantee annual deposits and establish rules for withdrawals to guard against devastating cuts in a potential recession, which could be on the horizon sooner than we would hope,” Lander said in a statement.

Gifted and Talented programs given new life under revamped plan

By Matthew Fischetti and Evan Triantafilidis

Education Chancellor David Banks and Mayor Eric Adams announced an expansion of the Gifted and Talented programs to every school district in the city.

The program, which starts at the Kindergarten level with an opt-in citywide test, will have 100 seats added to the existing 2,400 enrollment slots.

The admissions tests administered annually to thousands of rising Kindergarteners will be replaced with a student evaluation and eventual nomination by their pre-K teachers to a lottery system, or through an interview process if they are not yet in school, or attend a private or parochial school program.

The Adams administration says this universal pre-K screening takes the initial burden off families and will increase access to the program, resulting in a more diverse eligibility pool.

At the third-grade level, 1,000 seats will be added to the program.

Although it is not clear yet which schools in Brooklyn and Queens will be receiving the additional seats, the revival of the Gifted and Talented program was met with mixed reactions from elected officials. The Department of Education did not identify which districts will receive additional seats, despite multiple requests for clarification.

With just weeks left in his tenure, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last October plans to phase out the Gifted and Talented program. De Blasio planned to replace the program with “Brilliant NYC,” which would allow students eight and older to participate in accelerated learning programs while remaining in their original classroom.
De Blasio envisioned a program that was touted to reach 26 times more students than the current Gifted and Talented program, and offer a more widespread approach to attain a more inclusive model.

Critics of the Gifted and Talented program argue that the diversity of the program does not reflect the student body population. While Black and Latino kids make up the majority of city students – at approximately 65 percent – the Gifted and Talented programs enroll more than 75 percent of students who are either white or Asian.

The Adams administration says the expansion of the program is the result of the Department of Education’s engagement with and feedback from parents and diverse community stakeholders.

“We’re doubling down on this administration’s commitment to our youngest New Yorkers by adding additional seats and removing inequities in the admission process to allow students throughout this city to gain access to accelerated learning,” Mayor Adams said. “And thanks to this expansion, for the first time ever, there will be a Gifted and Talented program in every school district in this city. This is how we give every young person an opportunity to grow, to learn, to explore their talents and imagination.”

Elected officials along with education advocates voiced their approval of the new Mayor’s plan, while others claim that the move simply expands an already inequitable initiative.

Councilwoman Linda Lee, representing the 23rd District in Eastern Queens, has been advocating for the expansion of the Gifted and Talented program since before she was elected. With her youngest son eligible to test-in next year, Lee applauded last week’s announcement from the Mayor and Schools Chancellor.

“Since the fall, parents, community leaders, and elected officials have consistently called for G&T to be restored, and today the Mayor and Chancellor demonstrated that they are listening,” Lee said. “By not just expanding the number of seats available citywide, but also expanding programs to every school district in the City, and allowing students to test into the program at later ages, this new program will prove that we can have equity and educational excellence at the same time.”

A number of Lee’s colleagues in the City Council, including Speaker Adrienne Adams, Sandra Ung, Lynn Schulman, Rita Joseph, Justin Brannan, Gale Brewer and Oswald Feliz have all praised the move to expand the Gifted and Talented program citywide.

New York State Senator John Liu, chair of the committee on NYC Education, said that he is happy to see “positive movement” on accelerated learning in public schools, but remains cautious to the lottery system and “nebulous recommendations” that are a cause for concern for parents and families.

“Going forward beyond this school year, the administration must be sure to engage parents and students who have long called for more accelerated learning in order to address these outstanding issues,” Liu said.

Critics of the program, like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander, say that the revival and revamp of the Gifted and Talented program does not do away with the underlying tones of modern day segregation in the classroom.

Lander said that Elementary school students benefit from learning alongside a diverse group of peers, calling it one of the core virtues of public education.

“Segregating learning environments for elementary students, based on a teacher’s or test’s assessment of how smart they are, is not sound education policy,” Lander said in a statement. “We’ve seen repeatedly that stand-alone G&T programs lead to racial segregation.”

Other leftists like Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have released white papers criticizing the program and instead advocating for a “school enrichment model.”

The model would utilize “a broad range of advanced-level enrichment experiences for all students, and use student responses to these experiences as stepping stones for relevant follow-up,” according to Williams’ report.

“Adding more seats, more access, more opportunity is an improvement that will extend these benefits to more students. At the same time, it is also an expansion of a program that is inherently inequitable,” Williams said in a statement.

Green-Wood Cemetery receives $247K in funding

Green-Wood Cemetery is set to receive almost $250,000 in new funding to expand its educational programming.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services, a government agency dedicated to supporting educational institutions throughout the U.S., has awarded a $247,000 grant to The Green-Wood Historic Fund to develop environmental education programming for New York City middle school students with a focus on South Brooklyn.
The three-year grant will allow Green-Wood to greatly expand its existing school programs, which now focus on history, art, and architecture, by offering new courses specifically about the environment, sustainability, and the climate.
“Green-Wood’s education department exists to share all of the unique and special features of the cemetery with students and teachers,” said Rachel Walman, director of Education. “While nature might not be what you first think of when you think of a cemetery, Green-Wood is actually as impressive a green space as it is a burying ground.”
In addition to curricula focused on the environment, Green-Wood will also use the money to provide professional development opportunities for students interested in a career in sustainability science or other related fields.
“Green-Wood is an amazing living laboratory where children can study climate change in creative ways,” said Walman. “This funding will allow us to hire a program manager with content expertise who will plan three, different thematic programs complete with pre- and post-visit materials and pilot the programs with two local schools at no cost to them.”
So far, The Institute of Museum and Library Services has distributed nearly $30 million in funding to museums and educational institutions throughout the country.
“Our current round of grants for the museum world reflects the important work of our nation’s cultural institutions during the pandemic, and the deep thinking about the future of our culture in a post-pandemic world,” said musuem director Crosby Kemper.
The new curricula Green-Wood plans on creating with the funding will build on an already robust offering of educational programming.
This past June, Green-Wood celebrated the third graduation of its Bridge to Crafts Careers program, a unique masonry and historic preservation program. Throughout the ten-week course, students helped to renovate and restore a century-old monument in the heart of the cemetery.
Green-Wood also hosts a number of events open to the public. On Saturday, August 28, the cemetery will commemorate the Battle of Brooklyn, a famous Revolutionary War conflict fought in 1776 on the present day grounds of Green-Wood. The event will feature reenactors, demonstrations, music, and storytelling.

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