If budgets are moral documents, then New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s budget, recently passed by city council, confirms what many activists have been saying: that the city is pushing an unconscionable descent into an expanding police state.
In such a state, not only do police budgets expand, but other agencies’ budgets shrink, even as their functions are absorbed by the police. Under the new budget plan, New York City Department of Education spending will decrease by almost $1 billion while the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) budget will grow to $11.1 billion, accounting for the largest police budget in the United States. Mayor Adams allocated $400 million to the NYPD budget to increase the number of school safety officers. Further, according to Community United for Police Reform, the new “budget continues to fund the NYPD at 3 or 4 times the rate of other crucial agencies like the departments of ‘Youth and Community Development’ and ‘Aging,’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’.”
The enrollments are what determine how much schools will be cut. shrunk by 80,000Between the 2019-2020 school years and 2020-2021 school year, with further declines in enrollments expected. New York City’s public schools are among the most segregated and unequal in the U.S. — an issue that has only been compounded by the pandemic — and those hit the hardest by the loss in public school enrollments are overwhelmingly low-income students, qualified as “economically disadvantaged,” as well as students with disabilities.
Yet according to Mayor Adams, “We’re not cutting, we are adjusting the amount based on the student population.” Adams’s “adjustments” — his education cuts —come at a time when long-standing organizing for school desegregation has generated a broader acknowledgment of the city’s segregated and unequal schools. Leonie Haimson, executive director of the education advocacy nonprofit Class Size Matters, tweeted that, “Last time NYC school budgets [were]This was cut to 2007-2008 [was] during [the] Great Recession.”
The Great Recession was a time of austerity in public schools, but it is true that the crisis that accompanied it was also a time when public schools were under severe financial pressure. As the Michael Bloomberg administration (which was almost shut down) demonstrates 200 schools over the course of 12 years) pushed forward austerity measures, many public schools administrators — increasingly on alert and fearful of being labeled “underutilized” and closed, or subjected to cuts in already-stretched budgets — started actively recruiting families with economic means.
Their motivation for recruiting these families combined a few goals: keeping public school open, fighting against charter school growth, and compensating for austerity cuts by parent fundraising. Since 1992, I have been a teacher in Community School District 3. It is one of the most diverse, yet unequal, school districts in New York City. organizer As a researcher, and later as an administrator. During that time, I’ve found that the recruitment of families in District 3 who were reconsidering their plans for, or investments in, private schools, was made possible by the mechanism of “school choice.” Enlivening market logics, school choice supposedly provides a range of options to parents as to where they can send their child to school and a range of competitive landscape from which schools select students.
In my own researchIn this article, I examine how policies regarding school choice emerged in the post-war period.Brown v. Board of Education (1954, 1955) period, have been implemented through a range of mechanisms — including segregation academies, magnet programs, charter schools and voucher programs — that have consistently been driven by efforts to evade a redistribution of resources, expand consumerism and ensure the continuity of unequal schools through race- and class-based exclusion. The expansion of dual-language programs and magnet and gifted and talent programs was one of the policies of school choice in District 3. This was during the Great Recession. Although these programs, which included dual-language programs, were sometimes distorted from the progressive mandate, they used the language diversity and multiculturalism to create zones of exclusion and a public school system that operated in a similar fashion to the private. It had a competitive and opaque admissions process, uneven access, limited rights, and limited entitlement to services. These conditions led to heated debates over school zone lines, which made national headlines in 2015/16. This in turn inspired increased organizing for desegregation.
At a recent press conference on his proposed budget, Mayor Adams responded to critiques regarding education spending cuts by saying, “Now some people say, ‘Well you have the money already, why don’t you spend the money that you have?’ Wrong, no. Just because you see money in my bank account doesn’t mean that I didn’t write a check against it somewhere. It’s just people didn’t cash it yet. Every dollar we have is allocated, and it’s going somewhere. So, if we take away from those dollars, we’re going to take away from some of the programs that are in place and they’re paying for.” Adams is not technically wrong here — ultimately, he is taking from education to fortify the police.
Charlotte Pope of Teachers UniteThe entire Department of Education budget will see a nearly $1 billion reduction. translating to the loss of school staff as well as much-needed services and programs$215 million in cuts directly to classroom spending. As police budgets shrink, questions will arise about how to fill the many holes created by austerity. These questions aren’t new; they point to established trends of Neoliberal Restructuring.
It is clear to see the consequences of the Great Recession, and other moments of state realignment, that there are serious stakes in how we manage this crisis and the ways we can combat it. The expansion of school choice programs, and the structuring of rights as private choices and piecemeal remedies to “saving public schools,” is far from enlivening any notion of the commons or collective life. Through public or private means, policies of school choice have worked to naturalize myths of meritocracy, scarcity and competition, ensuring that a world in which one’s rights and freedoms are positioned against those of another is the only world we’re able to imagine.
Far from an anomaly, the austerity measures enacted by Adams ’s budget represents a backlash against a growing movement for abolition, one that aligns with a larger trajectory of Black freedom struggles intertwined with a long history of organizing for transformed public education. This history shows that everyday people understand that the fight against desegregation is not about integration or access. It’s about a public school system that we have yet win and one that is inextricably linked to radical redistribution. This longer history also shows that schools are places of possibility, containers through the which the slow, steady work to cultivate new social relationships necessary for abolitionist futurities might take place in the present.
Too often, such projects are seen as impossible to realize without the state. Schools and hospitals can be repurposed and transformed, but not prisons or jails. This strategy is well-known. These include the Movement for Community Control of Schools, and its many place-based articulations.
They also include El Comité, which led a 14-year struggle in the 1970s and 1980s to win a Spanish dual-language program at one District 3 elementary school. The program was run by parents and teachers. As Rose Muzio documents,A broad coalition and a wide range tactics were key to the success of the program, including attending and interrupting school board meetings and picketing and occupying schools. Positioned against the assimilative and deficit oriented bilingual education programs of the time, the program won by El Comité was fundamentally understood to be part of a larger project to transform material conditions and build working-class power for self-determination and a decolonial future.
We can also learn from the U.S. Landless Workers Movement/ Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST)There are over 200,000 students who have been served by the 2,000 schools they have built in their settlements. The MST’s educational experiments, as Rebecca Tarlau documentsThese include securing state funding for adult literacy, vocational high school, training thousands of teachers, and the establishment of hundreds of preschools. Informing the MST’s work in education is its strategy of working within, through and outside of the state.
If, as abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore notes, “crises do indicate inevitable change, the outcome of which is determined through struggle,” then the moment we are stepping into, marked by intensified austerity, will be determined by the struggles we wage. As we push for demands to defund police and fund and transform public schools, we can learn from the history of the Great Recession. These experiments speak to the vision, praxis, and defiance of individual solutions.
W.E.B. Du Bois illustrates in Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880Abolition democracy was defined as political projects that were rooted within place. These projects linked growing freedom in present to building collective liberation in the future through the establishment institutions and infrastructures that are rooted in radical relationality and expanded political perspectives.