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Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Pubs & Reports

‘Where’s My Seat?’ How School Overcrowding Disproportionately Impacts Immigrant Communities in New York City

Executive Summary

School overcrowding, which occurs when “the number of students enrolled in the school is larger than the number of students the school was designed to accommodate,” is rampant in New York City’s public school system. Across the city, students are forced to learn in crammed classrooms, ill-equipped trailers or temporary classroom units (TCUs), or other spaces not intended for instruction. New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) has acknowledged that more than 49,000 new seats need to be created to address the problem and committed to creating fewer than 33,000 new seats in coming years, and other more likely estimates put the number at more than 100,000.

As the City seeks to address the critical issue of overcrowding, it is important to ask: is it a problem that the city’s diverse communities share equitably? This report seeks to answer this question with regard to New York City’s (NYC) growing immigrant population. In particular, the analysis examines two questions:

  • Do districts with higher proportions of immigrants have a greater overcrowding problem?
  • Is the DOE school construction plan set to address the overcrowding needs of immigrant communities to the same extent as it does other communities across NYC?

To answer these questions, we compiled a data set that included the following variables for each school district in NYC: percentage of population that is foreign-born, median income, school seats needed according to the DOE Capital Plan, the number of seats the DOE is committing to create in the Capital Plan, and the percentage of needed seats identified by the DOE that it is committing to create in the Capital plan.

Using regression analysis, we find that overcrowding is particularly pernicious in immigrant communities, and that the DOE Capital Plan shortchanges the immigrant communities where overcrowding tends to be worse. When controlling for other variables, immigrant communities have larger overcrowding problems and greater unmet needs in the DOE’s current Capital Plan—meaning that their overcrowding problems will be more likely to persist into the future.

To address the overcrowding crisis, this report recommends:

  •  The DOE must revise its Capital Plan and commit to:

-fully fund all of the more than 100,000 needed seats citywide;

-ensure that the needs of immigrant communities are being met; and

-remove all school trailers and place all students in real, permanent classrooms.

  • As New York City proceeds with re-zonings to expand housing stock, it must give explicit priority for addressing the need for school construction.
  • The New York City Council must create and coordinate a Task Force on Overcrowding to propose and advocate for solutions to this major problem.

NYC should be able to meet the needs of students across the five boroughs. If the DOE and the School Construction Authority (SCA) fail to act, they will continue to deprive the City’s children of the opportunity to learn and thrive that they need and deserve.