Examining intercity schools is key to understanding the overall wellbeing and future development of lower-income New York City youth.
Schools of Color
Gentrification has been a hot topic of discussion recently due to rapid urban development in New York City. New York City’s housing crisis is directly linked to the topic of gentrification, as more than 12 percent of neighborhoods across the five boroughs are gentrifying or in an advanced state of gentrification.1 These effects are not limited to the lower-income residents of areas where economic and demographic change are most pronounced; gentrification and urban development also displace lower-income families that seek to move to certain neighborhoods that fit their financial bracket exclusively. Therefore, low income families are almost always barred from the luxuries of safe and affordable stable living, which has an unparalleled impact on their children.2 With New York City’s long-standing history of redlining, segregation, and gentrifying urban development, it’s close to impossible for lower-income families to sustain quality living for themselves and their children. As exclusive wealthier areas are first in line for investment, many low-income communities are often left out of city beautification and other urban planning projects. Practices such as redlining and divestment of low income communities lead to inadequate access to healthy food, high policing, low-quality education, and lack of academic and extracurricular resources for young students. This essay aims to understand the significant effects of systemically racist practices on low-income communities by looking at challenges facing New York City public schools in Black and brown neighborhoods. Examining intercity schools is key to understanding the overall wellbeing and future development of lower-income New York City youth.
To fully understand the crisis of housing and gentrification in New York City, it is essential to understand New York City’s history of segregation and disinvestment strategies. These processes are historically examined in Kennedy and Cohen’s The American Pagent. They share that the practices of redlining started during the Great Depression in the 1930s as the U.S government created programs to increase the housing stock in large cities under the New Deal policy. Although the plan was created to increase the housing stock, it actually further segregated white and Black communities. These actions were primarily used to give homes to white middle-class veterans of World War II in the GI Bill. The GI bill was used as a response to the fifteen million veterans returning from war in order to smoothly transition veterans from the battlefield into the workforce. The bill made many provisions to send white former soldiers to schools and universities so that they can be best prepared for the job world. Under the Employment Act of 1946, it became a government policy to “promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power.” The GI bill also launched the Veterans Administration (VA) to guarantee loans, 16 billion in value, to be spent on homes, farms, and small businesses. This ensured that arriving young soldiers were well educated, guaranteed jobs, and quality homes.3
Government programs such as the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the VA propelled the white family movement or “white flight” to the suburbs in the Northeast and Midwest. Whites would leave their urban homes in densely populated areas to move to more quiet and less populated areas such as Long Island, New York. Along with the white flight also came a construction boom in the 1950s and 1960s where cheap new construction areas created for veterans and their families were on the rise. One popular community born out of this was Levittown in Long Island, New York, which provided white veterans with cheap one-family homes. However, many Black veterans and families were cut off from federal housing entirely, especially in Levittown. FHA administrators rejected giving out loans to Black families and other people of color because they feared they would risk devaluing white neighborhoods.
White flight had a serious impact on the inner cities. While whites were moving out of large cities, many Black people either moved out of southern areas into more urban areas or stayed right in the midst of impoverished inner cities. Communities affected by white flight were commonly disinvested from and were excluded from resources provided in exclusively white suburban areas. Additionally, construction companies would purposely build lower-quality public affordable housing in predominantly Black neighborhoods to keep Black people in the projects of large cities and away from white neighborhoods.
The local New York City government also participated in redlining areas where lower-income Black people resided to cut them off from investment and federal spending in predominantly Black neighborhoods, further solidifying systematic oppression and racial segregation. In this, Black people had little to no access to well-funded, quality schools. Underfunded schools continually have an effect on the education of Black youth and directly adds to the cycle of generational poverty affecting low income Black Americans.4
Redlining still has a large impact on today’s society especially in New York City. When areas are not receiving proper funding, large communities suffer for generations. Underfunded public schools have one of the greatest impacts on urban communities and urban youth development. When city school budgets are low, it results in underpaid teachers and lower quality curriculums. The average salary for teachers in the U.S was $60,477 for the 2017 to 2018 school year. But teachers in lower-income schools report lower base level incomes at $53,000, and in nearly three hundred districts across the country, teachers earn a starting salary below $30,000 compared to the $40,000 national starting salary average.5
In an article, “Here’s How New York City Divvies Up School Funding…” the author, Desire, explains the flaws in New York City’s funding program. For New York City public schools, funding is divided up through the Fair Student Formula (FSF), a formula used throughout thirty districts across the U.S., particularly in cities, including Baltimore, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Boston. In New York City, about $6 billion of the education department’s $30.8 billion budget, including teacher salaries, is allocated using this formula. Created in 2007, the formula’s purpose was to grant the proper amount of funding to schools that needed it based on factors such as school income levels, school achievement records and teacher salaries. Students that are poor, require extra support, have disabilities or who are learning English as a second language were set to benefit from extra funding that the formula provided. However, New York City government officials wanted to make sure that schools in higher-income neighborhoods were not receiving less because of it. Also, because the FSF was created right around the beginning of the 2008 recession, the government rolled back planned funding to certain districts which had a completely negative effect on its performance for years after. Since then, the formula has not been accurate on dispersing the proposed amount of budgets to schools that need it. As of 2017, only 23 percent of schools received the amount of funding the formula said they were set to receive.6
The most important issue with New York City’s “Fair” Student Funding formula is its effect on teachers, particularly veteran teachers. Even though the formula was put in place to protect the salaries of teachers, in many ways, it has done the opposite. This budgeting formula also does not take into account teacher salary raises, as the budget does not provide more funding for teachers who qualify for raises. When a number of veteran staff members qualified for salary raises at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in Queens, it took roughly $340,000 out of the school’s expenses. Because the FSF does not protect salary raises, principals were forced to cut free after school programs and, in one case, a new planned teaching position.7
Unfortunately, inadequate funding is highly prevalent in lower income city schools, as school principals and other officials are pressured to make large budget cuts that include lowering investment in quality books, computers, classrooms, and essential courses, such as music, visual art, performing arts, gym classes, and college preparation classes. Among these budget cuts, the most detrimental is cuts to quality school advising and counseling staff. The New York Daily News states that, “According to the New York City Department of Education’s ‘Report on Guidance Counselors,’ in 2018, there were 2,881 guidance counselors (77 of whom were part-time) and 1,335 social workers serving the 1.1 million students in the city’s public schools.”8 For youth living in lower-income areas, it is normal to have one guidance counselor delegated to advise a large pool of four hundred students. Often lower-income students are left to seek friends and family for help with mental health as well as college and career advice, because school guidance counselors are regularly overworked, busy, and therefore not considered helpful. Further, students have been led astray when it comes to mental health services and college planning advice, which has a major impact on their future careers.9 In contrast to low-income students, students who come from higher income backgrounds are more likely to be prepared for college and the workforce. Most of the top public schools in the nation are located in the wealthiest neighborhoods, which allow wealthy students to receive the best quality education for free, often deemed a luxury for lower-income students. The top private K-12 institutions are also located in wealthy neighborhoods and are often only affordable for wealthy families.
Specialized public high schools are sometimes the only schools that provide students who can not afford quality education the academic resources to encourage high academic achievement and good future careers. However, specialized high schools tend to lack economic and racial diversity. At Stuyvesant, New York City’s top-ranking public school, a mere eight Black students and twenty Latinx students were admitted to a class of 749 in 2020.10 These numbers are crucial because specialized public schools tend to have a surplus of resources and are valued at being feeder schools to top private colleges. Because specialized public schools tend to be high achieving, they also receive more funding from the FSF, about 1,000 per student, than other public schools.11
Lower income Black and brown students that do well academically are often barred from being admitted to specialized schools because of the highly competitive standardized tests that are required for admission. These tests are not only very competitive, but at most times require years of preparation in primary school, tutors and preparatory courses that can be very expensive and a financial burden on low income Black and brown families. Low-income students are not often properly advised about the needed resources to apply for standardized schools which prevents many black and brown students from even applying. These institutions have the resources to provide students with a well-rounded education that prepares them for college and the workforce. But what about students who attend schools that are not fully equipped with college preparation resources or an adequate amount of guidance counselors?
When conducting an interview, I asked a local Brooklyn NYC public school student, Tasniah, about their opinion on the college preparation and mental health resources at their high school. “I’m not really close to any of the counselors because they only really see us about college and graduation stuff. They’re not the people you would go to if you’re struggling, so no I don’t feel mentally or emotionally supported by them.” Tasniah responded.
As students continue to reap the consequences of inadequate funding at intercity schools, NYC’s schooling budget is now threatened by even more cuts with the recent mayoral administration. The current mayor, Eric Adams, outlined cuts of $557 million in reductions to the teaching workforce, school budgets, and the ranks of school safety agents in his recent budget proposal.12 In addition, according to The New York Post, Adams rejected City Hall’s push to end NYPD control over schools as there are more than five thousand school safety agents throughout New York City. The mayor also plans to invest in more school safety agents by supporting practices such as requiring students to pass through metal detectors each and everyday. However, these plans directly affect Black and brown youth in lower-income neighborhoods. Studies show that 48 percent of Black high school students go through metal detectors each day, with the percentage at 38 for Latinx students compared to 14% to their white and asian counterparts. This also varies by area, with an astounding 62 percent of Bronx high school students required to go through metal detectors. As the racial demographics of the Bronx are 54.8 percent Latino and 28.5 percent Black, the high percentage of metal detectors in the borough largely affect these groups disproportionately.Investing in more metal detectors and school safety agents in Black and brown areas insinuates that Black and brown students are inherently more violent than other students that attend predominantly white schools. While school shootings disproportionately affect urban schools and people of color, mass shootings are more likely to occur at white, suburban schools.13 Therefore the overwhelming implementation of metal detectors in Black and brown neighborhoods is more due to systematic racism than safety. Additionally, Black and Brown students do not feel safe in schools that have metal detectors but rather feel over policed.14 When asked “What has been your experience interacting with metal detectors and school safety agents at your school?” a Brooklyn high school student, Tasniah, responded with “My experience with them has been repetitive and grueling. It’s a constant cycle of being checked and interacting with SSA’s [School Safety agents] everyday. I don’t enjoy it at all and would much prefer we went without them.”
Students in low-income communities already are less likely to have access to extracurricular activities, meaning there is a lack of creative environments to explore and define various skill sets inside and out of school. This blockage ultimately leads to lower interest in education and heightened dropout rates as students are not able to fully use their agency to shape their educational career. Students from low-income areas are 2.4 times more likely to drop out of school than those from middle-income neighborhoods15. For low-income high school graduates, there are additional barriers to success. Black children that live in high-poverty neighborhoods have a 76 percent chance of graduating highschool compared to white children from lower-income neighborhoods that have a 87 percent chance of graduating high school. The percentage is even higher for white students from higher-income neighborhoods as the highschool graduation percentage is 95 percent. Inadequate preparation closely parallels college dropout rates for Black and brown low income students. For instance, a 2015 study found that only 14 percent of low socioeconomic status students received a bachelor’s or higher degree within eight years compared to 29 percent of middle-income students. When many schools have shifted to online learning in 2020, college dropout rates rose while enrollment decreased due to the increasing demand for expensive electronic equipment such as laptops, wifi routers, and printers. Lower-income students that may not be able to afford those luxuries simply can not compete.16
Low-income dropouts often are only exposed to lower-income jobs in their own community, creating a constant cycle. Parents of lower-income students are often stuck in this cycle themselves and lack the money or education to help their children apply for college. Other students are left with no options but to drop out of school in order to provide for their families. And the few who take on the challenges of school and fulltime jobs not only risk affecting their GPA but also their physical and mental health. Finances are among the most worrying to students, as nearly 60 percent of students worry about paying for college. Additionally, more than half of students worry about taking care of their monthly expenses while studying in college. Students’ GPAs can also be affected by full time jobs, as studies show that students who work 20-30+ hours a week have trouble maintaining stable GPAs compared to those who work fewer hours or none at all. As reported in The Washington Post, “When low-income students stop attending school, they rarely return, diminishing their job and wage prospects for the rest of their lives.”
Although racial and economic discrimination in education has been a prevelant issue in today’s society, the systemic practices of disenfranchising Black and Brown youth have been prevalent ever since the beginning of the twentieth century. With the mix of redlining, gentrification, over policing and economic inequality, low income Black and Brown students have always needed to fight hard for the right to fair, equal, and quality education. When analyzing the affect of poverty on predominantly lower-income Black and brown schools as it relates to lack of funding and fewer academic and college preparation resources, it is evident that there is a direct correlation between lower socio-economic status and lower quality education. Upon studying the effect of poor education on students entering the work force and adulthood, there is another correlation between low quality of education and low quality of life. The socioeconomic status of a child should never be a factor in the quality of their education, development and their future quality of life. As racial segregation and divestment has aided in the disenfranchisement of lower-income Black and brown New York City public schools, it is imperative to critically analyze these issues inorder to ensure proper and adequate education reform. Understanding the social inequities in New York City schools and how they affect our Black and brown youth will make the future of our city better and fairer for generations to come.
- Karen Chapple, Tim Thomas, and Miriam, “New York – Gentrification and Displacement,” Urban Displacement Project, Berkeley, CA, 2021.
- Chapple, Thomas, and Zuk, “New York – Gentrification and Displacement.”
- David M. Kennedy and Lizabeth Cohen, The American Pageant (Cengage Learning, 2015).
- Terry Gross, ““A ‘Forgotten History’ of How The U.S. Government Segregated America,” Fresh Air, aired May 3, 2017, on National Public Radio.
- Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss, “Low Relative Pay and High Incidence of Moonlighting Play a Role in the Teacher Shortage, Particularly in High-Poverty Schools,” Economic Policy Institute, May 9, 2019.
- Monica Disare, “Here’s How New York City Divvies Up School Funding, and Why Critics Say the System is Flawed,” Chalkbeat New York, January 29, 2018.
- Disare, “Here’s How New York City Divvies Up School Funding, and Why Critics Say the System is Flawed.”
- Mindy Mendez Ventura, “The Help NYC Children Deserve: The Public Schools Are Starved for Guidance Counselors and Social Workers,” New York Daily News, February 13, 2020.
- Ventura, “The Help NYC Children Deserve.”
- Eliza Shapiro, “Only 8 Black Students Are Admitted to Stuyvesant High School,” The New York Times, April 29, 2021.
- Disare, “Here’s How New York City Divvies Up School Funding, and Why Critics Say the System is Flawed.”
- Alex Zimmerman, “Eric Adams Is Facing Pressure to Reverse NYC School Budget Cuts,” Chalkbeat New York, August 4, 2022.
- David Hemenway and Eliot Nelson, “The Scope of the Problem: Gun Violence in the USA,” Current Trauma Reports 6, no. 1, (2020): 29-35.
- Shabnam Javdani, “Policing Education: An Empirical Review of the Challenges and Impact of the Work of School Police Officers,” American Journal of Community Psychology 63, no. 3-4 (2019): 253-269.
- Thairy Lantigua, “A Closer Look at Graduation Rates,” The Bronx Journal, January 6, 2019.
- Heather Long and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, “The Latest Crisis: Low-Income Students Are Dropping out of College This Fall in Alarming Numbers,” The Washington Post, September 16, 2020.