Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
Schools With Fewer Poor Students May See Deeper Budget Cuts
Tuesday, July 05, 2011 - 12:00 AM
New York City is making it tougher for schools to receive federal aid for students in poverty because of the loss of stimulus dollars — meaning many schools will lose funds on top of the average budget cut of 2.4 percent.
"They are waiting anxiously," says Randi Herman, first vice president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. She says principals just got their budgets this week and most didn't have time to digest the changes until now.
Last year, schools needed only 40 percent of their students to qualify for free or reduced lunch in order to receive federal Title 1 funds because the city benefited from hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus dollars. Previously, that cutoff was usually 60 percent and it only applied to students receiving free lunch — not those who qualified for the reduced price.
But with the loss of stimulus funds for the new fiscal year, the city is reverting back to its old 60 percent cutoff. The exception is Staten Island, where the cutoff is 45 percent because the borough has the lowest poverty rate in the city.
Free lunch eligibility varies by household size, but a family of four making less than $29,000 annually would qualify.
About 200 additional schools were able to receive Title 1 dollars last year because of the stimulus.
Department of Education spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said the city will make up most of the loss this fall with additional funds through its own Fair Student Funding formula "so they don't face a cliff."
She said the city will also grandfather another 40 schools this fall where 60 percent of their students qualified for free lunch last year, but wouldn't in the 2011-2012 year.
Principal Mark Dunetz of the Academy for Careers in TV & Film, a small new high school in Queens, said a 56 percent of his students for the fall semester are eligible for free lunch, putting him just below the new 60 percent cutoff.
Dunetz was worried about losing the money but the Department of Education will now restore $161,000 in lost Title 1 aid to his school. That's a little less than what it received last year but not as much as Dunetz expected to get in the fall, because of growing enrollment. He says he's very relieved but concerned because "we still stand to lose all Title I support in coming years."