Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)
In his State of the City speech last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke of the need to create 100,000 good jobs for New Yorkers in the coming decade. He defined “good jobs” as those which pay more than $50,000 a year and talked about encouraging various sectors of the economy, like technology, that have average salaries that pay even more. To his credit, the mayor talked about creating good jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree, like construction, but he also recognized the important role advanced education plays in attaining many well-paying technology-based jobs that are at the core of our globalized economy.
I think that’s great, but if the jobs to be created are to be held by New Yorkers – meaning children from every community who are educated in our city’s schools, whether they are native-born or immigrants – his administration must do more to prepare our city’s children for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs of the future.
Sadly, according to a report by the New York City Comptroller’s office, which relied on Department of Education statistics, “only about one-fifth of the City’s new college-degreed entrants to its workforce...are products of the City’s school system.”
Critics of the mayor’s speech suggest that he can do little to actually promote the creation of such jobs for New Yorkers. I disagree. The city needs to spend more money where it will do the most good to prepare our children for the high tech jobs of the future, and that means spending more on STEM education in our public schools.
A dramatic example of the underfunding of STEM education in our city is Brooklyn Technical High School, where I head the Alumni Foundation. Brooklyn Tech receives only 87.6 percent of the annual funding required under the city’s fair funding formula. That means it is shortchanged about $1 million a year. While Tech ranks consistently in the top schools in our nation and our state, this chronic underfunding is short changing six thousand of the best and brightest students of our city. The school simply cannot offer the number and variety of advanced placement courses that the students could and should be taking.
Even more troubling is the city’s failure to keep the school’s physical infrastructure - its elevators, boilers, plumbing, and electrical systems - up to date. Some of it is simply too old to be reliable and some, like the electrical, is not distributed properly throughout the school to service the needs of modern classroom computerization. The alumni recently commissioned a professional study of the building, which occupies a square city block. It showed that it would cost about $300 million to recapitalize the 80-year-old building and make it into a modern vertical campus. To replace the building would likely cost three times as much.
Brooklyn Tech has a long history of educating the children of the city’s working families – whether New York-born or from other countries – and preparing them for the world of work. Admittedly in my day, nearly 50 years ago, we learned how to operate metal lathes and pour molten lead in the foundry. Today’s modern curriculum allows students to major in many engineering fields as well as quantitative finance, law and medicine (That’s right, Brooklyn Tech has majors like a college.) Brooklyn Tech accounts for a large percentage of all the AP courses taken in the city, but at the same time, it also graduates hundreds of students each year who have industry-recognized certifications needed to get a job.
If the city wants to prepare New Yorkers for the good jobs that exist today, and in the future, it should increase funding for STEM education to 100 percent of the fair funding formula, not only at Brooklyn Tech but at other city high schools – and not only the eight test-in schools like Tech, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, but others across the city committed to educating our children in the critical STEM curriculum.
For Brooklyn Tech, that also means the city should embark on a ten-year program to rehabilitate its building. Not only would this properly prepare today’s students for the jobs of the future, it would also create high-paying construction jobs for thousands of our city’s workers.
Larry Cary is a Manhattan lawyer and president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.