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Budget Analysis: Charter Spending Squeezing Education Budget

Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 05:51 PM

New York City's Education Department will spend $51 million to open more than two dozen new charter schools next year, according to a report released on Thursday by the Independent Budget Office.

The analysis of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's preliminary budget also found that the city had slightly overestimated how much the Department of Education's budget would increase next year, while minimizing the amount by which general education spending may have to be cut to cover rising costs in other areas.

Earlier this week, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott assured schools that regardless of the Office of Management and Budget's early estimates, he would find a way to protect schools from cuts and essentially keep their budgets flat.

According to the city's preliminary budget, the Education Department would have to impose a $64 million cut to general education spending next year, but the Independent Budget Office report estimates there will need to be $203 million in cuts.

Education Department officials continued to say schools would not be hurt.

"As the Chancellor testified on Tuesday, we do not foresee reductions to school budgets or system-wide layoffs at this time," Barbara Morgan, a Department of Education spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail message.

At a City Council hearing on Tuesday, city officials said they did not know how much 28 new charter schools with roughly 3,800 students would cost next year -- they typically do not supply such figures until later in the year -- and so no figure was factored into the education budget.

The Independent Budget Office, however, estimated $51 million in costs for the new schools -- a figure that city officials did not dispute -- which partly accounts for the disparity in estimates of anticipated school cuts.

Charter schools are public in that they receive public financing for students' education, but operate their schools independent of the Education Department bureaucracy.

According to the Independent Budget Office report, the city could spend approximately $830 million on charter schools next year, including the expansion of schools that are already operating. If a similar number of charter schools were to open in 2013 -- the mayor has pledged to open 50 before he leaves office -- costs would continue to increase beyond the city's projections, the report states.

Charter schools, along with special education programs, pension contributions and transportation, represent an increasing cost for the city's Education Department, which outpaces any additional money that the city has added to the overall department's overall budget, the report says. That means while the budget will climb again, to $19.6 billion next year, individual schools' allocations are expected, at best, to stay the same.

The city is also opening 30 new public schools next year, which it has estimated will cost $12 million.

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