Lawsuit Demands that NYC Do the Math on Class Size

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The City of New York has been charged with reducing class sizes since 2008 when then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio promised to be a nuisance until it was accomplished. The historic 13-year Campaign for Fiscal Equity had recently been victorious in State Supreme Court and the state gave NYC $1.5 billion to abolish disparities between schools upstate and down. $750 million of that money was earmarked for reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers, among other planned initiatives. But class sizes only continued to grow. Fast-forward to the present and de Blasio is now the mayor as a brand-new lawsuit is brought to force the city to do what it has repeatedly and dismally failed to do.

The current lawsuit, filed in Albany on April 12thand demanding that class sizes be reduced in NYC public schools now, is brought by two advocacy groups – Class Size Matters and Alliance for Quality Education – along with nine parents whose children attend schools across the five boroughs. Named in the suit are: Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, the Department of Education and NY Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

The mayor, former City Council Speaker, former Schools Chancellor and UFT leaders have pushed Gov. Cuomo and the state to release the remainder of funds owed to the city. But parents and educators want more. Last July, they asked Commissioner Elia to enforce the law established by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity by requiring New York City to follow through on the reduction of class sizes. But Elia ruled that the city’s obligation had expired, even though the class-size provision of the law remains in effect. So parents and advocates are asking the court to overturn the commissioner’s decision and order New York City to fulfill its obligations under the law to reduce class sizes over the next five years.

“The law remains on the books and New York City must live up to its duty to comply with the law and effectuate the constitutional rights of city school children,” said Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at the Educational Law Center.

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters said, “It is unconscionable that the state and the city have flouted the law and are subjecting over 290,000 students to overcrowded classes of 30 students or more. Class-size reduction is one of only a handful of reforms that have been proven to work to boost student learning and narrow the achievement gap.  The fact that NYC test scores have stalled over the last four years, according to the most reliable national assessments, shows that our students desperately need smaller classes.”

“Studies have shown us time and time again that when class sizes are too big, children do not get the attention and resources they need to thrive,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “Despite a legal obligation to reduce class sizes, the Department of Education has continued to allow classes in New York City to grow substantially, denying our children the education they deserve and putting far too much pressure on teachers. I am proud to continue standing with Class Size Matters and parents until the city makes good on their commitment to our children.”

“My daughter has been in huge classes since kindergarten,” said Naila Rosario, a plaintiff whose children attend public schools in Brooklyn. “This year, in fifth grade, her class size is 34. Like other children, she needs and deserves more personal attention and feedback to thrive.”

JoAnn Schneider, a Queens parent and plaintiff, agreed: “The other day I encouraged my son to raise his hand during 5th-grade math. He had just received a “0” for participation. In a class of 32 kids, his chance to participate and his chance to learn has been squashed. He needs a smaller class size now.”

“Planning to Learn,” a newly released report by the New York City Council, acknowledges that “NYC has still not met the agreed-upon class-size reduction goals established in 2007.”