Press Release Education

CBC Identifies Strategies to Significantly Reduce Public School Crowding and Save $2.4 Billion

July 10, 2019

The Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) today released “Cut Costs, Not Ribbons: Alternatives That Reduce School Crowding,” a comprehensive report demonstrating how administrative solutions can reduce school crowding and limit the need to build expensive new school buildings.

Approximately 520,000 public school students attend classes in 618 buildings the New York City Department of Education (DOE) defines as crowded. This crowding persists despite DOE’s extraordinary $9.1 billion investment to build more than 98,000 seats between 2005 and September 2018. School construction is expensive—now approaching $122,000 per seat—and takes more than three years from start to finish on average.

The DOE 2020-2024 Capital Plan proposes $8.8 billion in spending for new capacity projects. The CBC report recommends DOE increase its use of more cost-effective approaches such as more flexible zoning, re-purposing available seats, and altering admissions policies, to reduce the amount of planned construction. In the 2017-2018 school year crowded buildings had approximately 96,000 fewer seats than students. Implementing CBC’s recommendations could reduce this need to 36,000 seats and save $2.4 billion in planned capital spending, which translates to approximately $150 million in annual debt service costs for the City and the State.

“The City has not been able to build itself out of the school crowding problem,” said Andrew S. Rein, President of the Citizens Budget Commission. “Now is the time for the DOE to maximize the use of cost-effective alternative strategies to alleviate crowding and use the savings to improve instruction or building conditions.”

The CBC report details alternative strategies that could reduce the need to build elementary and middle school seats by 43 percent and eliminate the need to build seats for high school students. These include:

  • Increasing flexibility in elementary school zones, which could reduce the shortage at elementary schools by 16,000 seats.
  • Using available space in uncrowded middle schools to: a) accommodate 2,000 students at crowded middle schools through admissions and zoning changes; and b) provide 7,500 elementary seats through new elementary or K-8 schools.
  • Capping high school enrollment through the admissions process, with considerable discretion for local officials to exceed caps. Citywide there are 33,413 more high school seats than students.
  • Converting non-instructional space to classrooms, which could provide 420 seats at middle school buildings and 1,860 seats at elementary school buildings.

Savings from forgoing unnecessary school construction could be allocated to improving and enhancing existing buildings. Alternatively, operating budget debt service savings from lower capital spending on new capacity could be allocated to improving instruction.

To learn more, visit “Cut Costs, Not Ribbons: Alternatives That Reduce School Crowding”.