The Council is committed to improving educational outcomes as a pathway to equality and opportunity for our 1.1 million public school children. In the past 2 years, we have focused on improving school safety and on increasing equity and access to essential resources.
In July 2014, we passed Avonte’s Law, named for Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old autistic teenager who went missing from his Queens school in October 2013. This law is designed to improve school safety by increasing the number of audible alarms on public school doors. As a result, 97% of the 1,263 school buildings surveyed have requested and received door alarms, along with training for staff on student safety protocols.
In our first year, we dedicated $6.25 million to provide schoolwide free lunch to approximately 170,000 middle school students in 290 schools. Through the Council’s strong encouragement, the following year’s budget included $11.25 million for free lunch in all stand-alone middle schools and added $53.1 million over four years to fully implement Breakfast-in-the-Classroom in all stand-alone elementary schools by 2019.
We provided greater access to school sports for students attending small high schools by allocating $825,000 to the Small Schools Athletic League for 2015. That allocation has been increased to a total of $1 million in the current budget to improve access to sports and enrichment services in schools participating in the League.
In the last budget, we allocated $200,000 to support the Department of Education (DOE) in hiring a dedicated staff person as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) liaison for schools to specifically address the needs of LGBT youth and address the interconnection of race, sexual orientation and gender identity. This allocation will also support additional professional development for public school teachers through the Lambda Literary Foundation.
Research indicates that racial and economic diversity has a positive effect on all students. For that reason, we passed legislation requiring the DOE to report annually on student demographics and on efforts to encourage diversity within schools. We also passed a resolution calling on the DOE to set diversity as a priority as it relates to admissions policies and other key decisions.
Transparency is a high priority for the Council, and to the parents and children served by our public schools. That’s why we passed legislation requiring the DOE to provide reports on environmental inspections and reports; data regarding students receiving special education services; guidance counselors and social workers; and physical education in schools.