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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Wed, May 20, 2009

CFE Report: Almost Half of NYC Students Attend Overcrowded Schools

Especially Impacting High Needs Students; CFE Proposes Action Plan & Launches Website for Tracking

New York— A new report from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity finds that 48% of New York City’s public school students attend an overcrowded school or a school that utilizes a temporary structure such as a trailer or annex.

The report, Maxed Out: New York City School Overcrowding Crisis, examines data from every school in New York City to provide a comprehensive overview of the most urgently overcrowded schools and school districts and proposes a policy framework for the Department of Education (DOE) to tackle the crisis.

The report found 515 school buildings with a total enrollment of 501,632 students (approximately 48% of the 1,042,078 students enrolled in the city’s public schools that year) were either overcrowded or had associated temporary structures during the 2006/07 school year based on the city’s own data available in its Enrollment–Capacity–Utilization Report for the same school year.

“Every day, nearly half of New York City’s school children go to an overcrowded school or are forced to attend class in a trailer or annex that is cut off from their main school building,” said Geri Palast, Executive Director of CFE. “This level of overcrowding makes it impossible for New York City to lower class size consistently across the city, has led to the loss of countless arts and science classrooms and libraries and limits space available for special education.”

Helaine Doran, Deputy Director of CFE, who directed Maxed Out, explained: “Previous counts of overcrowding have swept temporary structures under the rug. But this study’s comprehensive accounting remembers that schools with temporary structures are overcrowded. Their common spaces— gyms, libraries, and cafeterias— are overtaxed and their principals— whose main job should be as instructional leaders— spend too many hours overseeing the smooth running of all their buildings.”

CFE also analyzed the city’s Enrollment – Capacity – Utilization Reports dating back to the 1997-98 school year and found that 129 of the 515 schools have been overcrowded for more than a decade.

“The report’s analysis shows a snapshot in time of the overcrowding in our schools, but clearly, this is a sustained crisis, not a fleeting problem,” added Doran.

With the release of Maxed Out, CFE launched, a website aimed at parents, educators and policy makers that uses an interactive, database-driven school building utilization map to visualize and track overcrowding at the borough, district and school grade level. The site will help parents and policy makers see where school overcrowding is concentrated, which school levels are impacted, how many students each building is built to service, and how many students are currently enrolled there.

“Overcrowding is making it especially difficult for us to serve our lowest performing and highest needs schools and students,” Palast added. “More than 162,000 students in low performing schools attend class in an overcrowded building while more than a third of all the temporary structures such as trailers and annexes are located at low performing schools – cutting off some of our highest needs students from the broader school community.”

The Court of Appeals’ decisions in CFE v State of New York specifically cited overcrowding as a deficiency in schools with struggling students, and stated the problem of overcrowding is inseparable from excessive class size.

The report found that 105 low performing schools on the state’s 2007/08 Schools In Need of Improvement (SINI) and Schools Requiring Academic Progress (SRAP) lists— attended by a total of 162,274 students— were located in overcrowded school buildings. At the same time, 75 schools on the 2007/08 SINI/SRAP lists— with a total enrollment of 95,089 students— had 86 temporary structures between them, over 34% of the 252 temporary structures across the city.

In addition, the report found that 391 school buildings— with a total enrollment of 381,582 students, 37% of the city’s public school students that year— were overcrowded during the 2006/2007 school year, with utilization rates greater than 100%. Of those, 299 were elementary school buildings, 20 were middle school buildings, and 72 were high school buildings. At the same time, 215 school buildings— with a total enrollment of 207,236 students— had 252 temporary structures. These schools included 191 elementary school buildings, 13 middle school buildings, and 11 high school buildings.

CFE identified 51 highest priority schools that have utilization rates greater than 150%; are SINI/SRAP schools and overcrowded with utilization rates greater than 125%; or are SINI/SRAP schools, overcrowded, and have temporary structures. There are 20 schools in the first category, including 18 elementary school buildings, 1 middle school and 9 high school buildings, with a total of 32,794 students enrolled in buildings that have a targeted capacity of 20,131 students. There are 12 schools in the second category, and 18 in the third.


CFE called on the Department of Education to leverage the next capital plan and underutilized space to combat overcrowding in the 51 highest priority schools identified in the report. In addition the report recommends that the DOE develop a long-term strategy to eliminate overcrowding, with specific criteria, including releasing an annual written report for public review.

New School Construction

CFE called on the DOE to use 80,000 planned new seats to eliminate overcrowding in their 51 high priority schools. The DOE’s primary tool in relieving overcrowding is new school construction— funded through the New Capacity Program in their 5-year capital plan.

The current DOE capital plan, ending this June, aimed to construct approximately 63,000 new seats, but only approximately 21,000 have come on line, while 34,239 seats are underway but incomplete and 8,000 postponed until the next capital plan. The new 5-year plan proposes to build approximately 25,194 new seats— including the approximately 8,000 seats rolled over from the current plan. Together the two plans have the potential to add 80,000 new seats to New York City’s public school system.

The report recommends DOE re-position the new capital plan to focus on eliminating the most egregious overcrowding - particularly for high need students. The proposed capital plan for FY2010 to 2014
contains vague goals with no specific plan to eliminate the worst conditions through either the building of new schools or other strategies.

Given that the 34,239 seats currently under construction—over 50% of the funded total seats in the last capital plan— will not begin to come on line until September 2009 and will extend out to 2012, as well as the seats that have been postponed to the next capital plan, CFE also recommended the DOE re-examine their timelines to ensure critical projects are completed in a timely manner.

Underutilized Space

The report recommends DOE develop a plan to ensure that under-utilized space is used to combat overcrowding. The report identifies 308 underutilized school buildings— with fewer than 75% of their seats filled and a cumulative excess capacity of 128,618 seats. The new DOE capital plan proposal states that there are approximately 100,000 available seats. CFE recommends the DOE identify all school buildings with space available and proximate to overcrowded buildings, use rezoning to eliminate overcrowding, and establishing new programs in underutilized buildings.

Declines in Enrollment

The report cautions against relying on projected declines in enrollment to address overcrowding. DOE enrollment projections forecast significant declines in many neighborhoods. However these declines are not evenly spread throughout the city and throughout school buildings. Projected declines —if they occur as predicted— have the potential to impact overcrowding in only a limited number of neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Enrollment projections will have little impact on overcrowding in Queens and Staten Island and in the balance of the other three boroughs.

Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >