Education inequalities in New York are so systemic that we barely acknowledge them anymore. I was one of the first high school students to be bussed in the city, from South Jamaica to Bayside, in order to reduce segregation and inequality. That was more than 40 years ago, and those problems are still as persistent and pervasive as they were then. To make our education system more equitable, I will:
- Significantly expand learning options in the summer to prevent the summer slide and provide parents with more choices.
- Invest in equity by directing far more capital dollars and programmatic funding into struggling districts.
- Creating the world’s best remote learning experience.
Expand summer school options.
Three hundred years ago, when children worked alongside their families on an agrarian calendar, it made sense to take a few months off a year to tend to the crops. Those days are long over. By greatly expanding summer school options, we can much better use our education infrastructure by creating more flexibility for parents in how — and when — their child receives their education.
This calendar change will ensure our school buildings stay open year-round and are available for day-long activities, including childcare, soft skills instruction, and local STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) programming. Learning during the summer months also does not need to be limited to the school buildings; it can be a time when teachers and students are encouraged to see the city as their laboratory, their theater, and their museum.
Create the best remote learning experience in the world.
The City’s initial rollout of remote learning has been completely unacceptable. Tens of thousands of kids fail to log on daily because they don’t have tablets or Wi-Fi — missing instruction that is costing them their future. At the same time, educators have not received the training or support they need to ensure that the kids who are online are learning effectively. Remote learning is here to stay in some form, and it can improve education options for parents and students.
To create the best remote learning experience in the world, we will first place a data sales tax on the big tech companies that sell private data to advertisers and others, and then use the proceeds to connect all New Yorkers at subsidized or no cost. We will also use our buying power as a major client of Apple and Google to get hardware and software at much better prices.
That cost savings and new revenue from the data sales tax will help pay for a new unit of remote learning experts who oversee the program and improvements, and who can improve the technological literacy of students. From there, we will use remote learning as a vehicle to desegregate New York City public education by opening citywide class opportunities with top-flight educators and connecting them to students from all communities, transcending zip code and income.
Prioritize school investment in low-performing communities.
There are both tangible and psychological problems created for students by a poor physical educational environment — and student outcomes are clearly linked. That is why we will prioritize Department of Education capital dollars to go toward the construction of state-of-the-art buildings in particularly low-performing communities. Additionally, less than 20% of our schools are fully accessible to children with physical disabilities. All new construction would be fully accessible.
Give homeless families local preference for schools.
One of the worst effects of homelessness is how it destabilizes the day-to-day lives of children. I will help prevent that by giving them priority at local schools, which can create needed constancy and normalcy.
Open school buildings to the community.
Many useful school spaces lie dormant before and after school hours, as well as on the weekends because extended use permit fees are a barrier to entry for those serving the underserved. After years of advocacy, I launched a $2 million pilot program through the DOE to provide community-based organizations with greater access to the use of school facilities, without incurring the cost of space usage. We will expand this effort to reach a greater number of CBOs that provide cultural, sports, or enrichment programming for youth in low-income and under-served areas.
We will also increase support for our 267 community schools and pursue the expansion of this model, which provides wraparound services to help address the many challenges a child faces living in an underserved neighborhood, into additional schools in low-performing communities. To truly maximize the use of our school facilities as safe, trusted spaces, we will survey all community school families on issues that impact their children’s success, including housing insecurity, and appropriately triage resources.
Achieve equitable PTA funding
Parent-teacher associations (PTAs) have a sizable impact on school budgets, in turn affecting the quality of education and enrichment that students receive. Schools with engaged and more affluent families tend to have stronger PTAs with larger budgets, reinforcing issues of inequality. Offering citywide in-person and virtual capacity building seminars for parents, expanding on the efforts of Brooklyn Borough Hall, will help to increase engagement, and a menu of new collective funding models that school communities could choose from will address the gap of financial resources. Potential approaches include a sister school model, a district fund supported by PTAs of that district, or a neighborhood fund seeded by local corporate or real estate contributions.