Alliance for Quality Education Pushing for Funding Equity

A new report published by the Alliance for Quality Education and Opportunity Action, says New York State is not only behind on what it owes to schools – $5.9 billion in total Foundation Aid and Gap Elimination Adjustment funding…. But that it owes 2.3 times more to high need schools than wealthy schools. This regressive trend works directly counter to the state’s constitutional obligation of providing every student with a “sound basic education.” According to the Alliance, the impact of underfunding of high need schools has a much harsher impact where basic student needs are greater. According to the report, small cities schools are the most underfunded which is particularly significant given the current Small Cities Lawsuit regarding school funding.

The Alliance is urging the state to prioritize high need schools by focusing on adjusting and utilizing the Foundation Aid formula. The formula looks at a district’s student need and economic health and adjusts funding accordingly..

“We’ve cut writing classes, science, athletics, arts, everywhere. We have a rich history in the arts and it’s extremely difficult pitting those things against other programming. The challenge is cutting away at these things without eliminating the heart of (public education),” said Laurence Spring, Superintendent of Schenectady City School District.

“We have eliminated our entire business program, cut our JV sports teams, reduced our academic intervention programs, as well as decimating our administrative leadership team.  This year we reduced five additional teaching positions to part time as a result of the state’s inability to equitably fund our school, which has curtailed our music and technology programs as well as reducing our elective course offerings.  These cuts place the children of Herkimer at a disadvantage when competing against high school graduates who happen to live in more affluent communities,” said Herkimer Central School District Superintendent Robert Miller.

“This report doesn’t just show a funding problem, it’s also a civil rights problem,” said Zakiyah Ansari, AQE Advocacy Director. “It has been 60 years since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, yet New York State continues to diminish the opportunities of some students. If you live in a poor community or community of color, your children are being shown that their education and their lives are less valuable.”

The 2007 ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case found that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to provide every student with a “sound basic education.” The remedy that came out of that ruling charged the state with investing $5.5 billion over four years into schools through the Foundation Aid formula, which prioritizes high need schools and works to close the opportunity gap between students. After two years of investment, the state turned its back on students and began cutting funding from schools in 2010-2012.

“The findings are clear and shocking. Governor Cuomo has failed to provide the leadership to uphold the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide every student with a sound basic public education. The state has a $6.2 billion surplus heading into 2015 there is no excuse to continue to make our students lose out,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director of AQE.

Currently, the state is behind $4.9 billion in Foundation Aid and $1 billion in Gap Elimination Adjustment (the GEA is the result of cuts made in 2010 and 2011).  Multiple court cases are now being brought against the state for its failure to fulfill its constitutional obligation to students, including the Small Cities Case for which David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center is now serving as co-counsel.

“This report demonstrates why students and parents from small cities across the state are suing Governor Cuomo and the State of New York for violating students’ constitutional rights,” said Sciarra. “We are prepared to demonstrate at the trial in December the educational harm being caused by the state’s continuing failure to deliver adequate funding to high needs schools.”

In the report “Billions Behind,” AQE and Opportunity Action recommend the state reverse the regressive trend towards underfunding by investing $5.9 billion in schools over the next four years – fully funding both amounts owed in Foundation Aid and GEA. However, the report urges the state to prioritize high need schools by focusing on adjusting and utilizing the Foundation Aid formula. This formula, which looks at a district’s student need and economic health, is still the best vehicle for closing the opportunity gap between high need and wealthy school districts.

“I first ran for the State Senate because I felt that schools districts in rural areas and small Upstate cities had been underfunded for years,” said Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk. “We’ve made great strides increasing Aid to Education in the last two State budgets, but, as this report clearly points out, much more needs to be done. When we don’t provide our schools with adequate State aid, we force them rely more heavily on property taxes, and that is an unacceptable option for the communities I represent.”

“Every student in New York deserves the opportunity to receive a quality education.  The only way to achieve this is to make sure that we provide adequate funding for our schools.  Increasing the Foundation Aid and eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment will ensure that our schools and our students have the resources they need to succeed,” said Senator Neil Breslin.

“As New York State’s fiscal health continues to improve (as recognized by three of the leading ratings agencies have recently remarked) and as the economy continues it’s recovery, it is critical that we as a society build upon the efforts to improve educational opportunities particularly in our urban settings,” said Assemblymember John McDonald.  “As a member of the Assembly who represents five cities and a district that struggles with poverty, education investment is the critical resource to provide promise to the children and the communities I represent.”

“Resource inequities are leading to more crowded classrooms, a narrow curriculum, and the elimination of the arts and music-all smart investments that have made New York the national capital for cultural richness, entrepreneurs and ingenuity.  It’s time to get back your billions New Yorkers, back into the public school system, and back to your greatest natural resource, children,” said Joseph Bishop, Ph.D., Executive Director, Opportunity Action.

“The evidence is clear: New York State is failing to fund a sound and basic education for a generation of students resulting in a severe drop in the quality of education schools are able to offer. Quality education is the responsibility of the State – it must not be placed on the shoulders of local districts, many of which cannot bear the burden on their own,” said Jesse Laymon, Executive Director of EffectiveNY.

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