New York City Budget Includes Expanded Breakfast for Students, More P.E. Teachers

by Beth Fertig

June 23, 2015

(Original Article)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito shook hands on a city budget deal Monday night that included several provisions for education programs. Details may not be clear until later this week but here’s what we know so far:

Breakfast in Class: the city will spend $17.9 million over the next three years phasing in the delivery of free breakfasts directly to classrooms for most elementary school students. Anti-hunger advocates had argued too many kids were missing out on eating it in the cafeteria because they arrived after the start of school.

Josh Wachs, chief strategy officer of the Washington DC-based group Share Our Strength, pushed for the breakfast program for several years. He said New York ranked last in the country among major American cities in school breakfast participation, “which was really holding kids back from reaching their full potential.”

Breakfast in schools is a federally funded program so the meals themselves don’t cost the city any money. But Chancellor Carmen Fariña worried serving breakfast in the classrooms might take time away from learning. And a few teachers have taken to Twitter with their own concerns.

“What about mice? There’s one living in my classroom,” tweeted CriticalClassrooms @lapham_katie. Another person asked who would clean the classrooms, which rarely get mopped.

Wachs said there shouldn’t be any problems, however, because other cities have used lunchroom staffers to deliver the meals and remove the trash. That’s why the city allocated almost $18 million. He also cited his organization’s survey finding most New York City teachers supported breakfast after the bell, adding that about 200 city schools already deliver breakfasts to classrooms or offer small meals on the go.

The administration said the breakfast program would expand this coming school year to serve 141 elementary schools and 77,000 students, reaching 530 schools and 339,000 students by the fall of 2017.

No Free Lunch: Anti-hunger advocates lost their campaign to serve free lunch to all public school students. The mayor said he was sticking with a pilot program for stand-alone middle schools. They began serving free lunch last September.

“The first year of the school lunch program didn’t achieve what all of us had hoped,” de Blasio said on Monday, adding that Mark-Viverito also acknowledged “there has to be a much stronger promotional effort, an effort to engage parents and students.”

The administration’s description of the lunch program has been challenged, however, by those who say there was a noticeable uptick in children eating free lunches at middle schools this year.

“The absence of universal free school lunch in the budget agreement is a huge missed opportunity,” said Liz Accles, executive director of Community Food Advocates.

Renewal Schools: The mayor’s prescription for struggling schools will get an additional infusion. The city budget added another $12 .7 million to lengthen the school day at dozens of struggling schools. This is on top of funds the mayor proposed last month, bringing the cost of the Renewal program to $163 million next year alone, according to a City Hall official.

Physical Education: The Department of Education will spend $6.6 million to hire 50 additional gym teachers and to help comply with federal laws requiring equal access to sports for girls. The agreement also called for $2.4 million to expand sports teams in small high schools, which have argued they often don’t get a fair share of support.

Crossing Guards: An additional 80 school crossing guards will be hired as part of  the city’s efforts to reduce pedestrian deaths.

Special Education: The budget includes $7.5 million to add 30 special education assessment teams for the city’s public schools, and $5 million to add six teams just for pre-kindergarten children.