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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Wed, May 20, 2009

Maxed Out: New York City School Overcrowding Crisis

Almost Half of New York City's Students Attend Overcrowded Schools; High Needs Students Especially Impacted

This Campaign for Fiscal Equity report finds that 48% of New York City’s public school students attended an overcrowded school or a school that utilizes a temporary structure such as a trailer or annex during the 2006-07 school year. (download the report)

Maxed Out: New York City School Overcrowding Crisis, examined 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. With the release of the report CFE launched with its database-driven school building utilization map to help parents, educators and policymakers visualize and track overcrowding at the borough, district and school level.

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 Enrollment–Capacity–Utilization Report data for that year.

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

The Court of Appeals’ decisions in CFE v State of New York specifically cited overcrowding as a deficiency in schools with struggling students. CFE's 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. 75 of these SINI/SRAP schools with a total enrollment of 95,089 students had 86 temporary structures between them, accounting for over 34% of the 252 temporary structures across the city.

The report also found that 391 school buildings— with a total enrollment of 381,582 students, 37% of the city’s 2006-07 public school students — had 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 the 51 highest priority schools
as those schools with either:

  1. utilization rates greater than 150%;

  2. SINI/SRAP designations and utilization rates greater than 125%; or

  3. SINI/SRAP designations, utilization rates over 100% and temporary structures.

There are 20 schools in the first category, 12 schools in the second category and 18 in the third. The 18 elementary school buildings, 1 middle school and 9 high school buildings that make up the first category have a total of 32,794 students in buildings with a targeted capacity of 20,131 students!


CFE calls 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 specified criteria, including releasing an annual written report for public review.

New School Construction

CFE calls on the DOE to use 80,000 planned new seats to eliminate overcrowding in the 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 DOE capital plan, whicg ended in June 2009, aimed to construct approximately 63,000 new seats, but only approximately 21,000 have come on line; 34,239 seats are underway but incomplete; and 8,000 seats were postponed to the next capital plan. The 2009-2014 5-year plan proposes to build 25,194 new seats— including the approximately 8,000 seats rolled over from the previous 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 2009-2014 capital plan to focus on eliminating the most egregious overcrowding - particularly for high need students and that the DOE re-examine its timelines to ensure that they present realistic estimates for when new seats will come online...

Underutilized Space

CFE's report recommends that DOE develop a plan for use of under-utilized space 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. CFE recommends the DOE identify all school buildings with space available and proximate to overcrowded buildings, use rezoning to eliminate overcrowding, and establish new programs in the 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. Projected declines—if they occur as predicted—have the potential to impact overcrowding in a limited number of neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. Declining 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 >