Securing the Future of Our Democracy: Preparing ALL Students for Civic Participation

vote gen 3The Center for Educational Equity (CEE) at Teachers College (TC), Columbia University, celebrated election day by announcing the launch of our educational-rights initiative focused on strengthening students’ preparation for civic participation.

Through our new initiative, CEE will work with TC colleagues, educators, parents and students, and other leaders in the field to:

  • fill critical knowledge gaps through research;
  • develop legal strategies;
  • engage the public; and
  • build a coalition to advance a common policy agenda.

Preparing students for their important civic responsibilities as members of a democracy has historically been an essential role of schools in the United States. In most states, preparation for civic participation is also central to the right to education afforded by the state constitution.

In New York, the state’s highest court ruled in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) case that the state government has a constitutional obligation to provide all students “the opportunity for a sound basic education” that prepares them for productive civic participation and competitive employment. This means every school must be equipped to help all students develop the knowledge, skills, and habits they need to be effective civic participants when they graduate from high school.

As co-counsel for CFE, Michael A. Rebell, presently TC professor of law and educational practice and CEE executive director, led a statewide coalition that fought hard to win this right. Over the past year, CEE has been closely analyzing the substantial gaps in civic preparation that exist in schools here and nationwide. Rebell has written a book, Flunking Democracy: Schools, Courts and Civic Preparation (U. of Chicago Press, forthcoming, 2018), that examines these issues in detail.

The current state of civic life and our democratic institutions has generated great interest in this topic. For example, the New York State Education Department recently signaled the state’s commitment to preparing students for civic participation by including a “college, career and civic readiness index” concept in its Every Student Succeeds Act plan. We would like to see New York lead the way in equipping young people to strengthen our democracy.

CEE’s new initiative will help ensure that all students — particularly students living in poverty and those of color— have the opportunity to become effective civic participants.

Learn more and support our Securing the Future of Our Democracy civic-preparation initiative here.

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Today, the Campaign for Educational Equity becomes the Center for Educational Equity

The Center for Educational Equity (CEE) will continue to champion children’s right to a meaningful opportunity to graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and civic participation—and work to define and secure the full range of resources, supports, and services necessary to guarantee this right to all children, particularly children in poverty and children of color.

You can now find us at www.centerforeducationalequity.org.

You can still connect with us through our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram handle: @eduequity.

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The Campaign for Educational Equity will become the Center for Educational Equity

CENTER for Ed Equity bannerOn October 5, 2017, the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University will become the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College.

The Center for Educational Equity (CEE) will continue to pursue our mission to champion children’s right to a meaningful opportunity to graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and civic participation—and to define and secure the full range of resources, supports, and services necessary to guarantee this right to all children, particularly children in poverty and children of color.

Our dynamic approach to this work, which combines research, policy development, legal analysis, and public engagement, will remain the same.

Our new name reflects our ongoing position as a permanent policy and research center at Teachers College, the nation’s largest and oldest graduate school for education. As part of the Teachers College community, we benefit greatly from the diverse expertise and experience of TC’s students, faculty, and administration.

 

New York City’s Universal Physical Education Initiative: A Postive Step toward Ensuring a Meaningful Education for All Students in NYC

PhysEd4All-Teal-300x275The Campaign for Educational Equity is a member of the Phys Ed 4 All  Coalition, a network comprising community-based organizations, advocates, parents, educators, health professionals, and school administrators who are committed to increasing access to quality physical education in New York City public schools.

The Phys Ed 4 All Coalition applauds Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña for the city’s announced Universal Physical Education (PE) commitment to provide all schools with designated spaces for effective phys. ed. by 2021.

New York City’s Universal PE Initiative is an important acknowledgment that the facilities of many NYC schools do not currently meet the requirements of the state law. All New York students are entitled to public schools that provide them with suitable and accessible facilities, including adequate specialized spaces for libraries, laboratories, auditoriums, gymnasiums, and playgrounds (see CFE v. State of New York, 2003).

As Mayor de Blasio stated, “Incorporating physical activity into the day isn’t just the healthy thing for our young people, it is the law and one that was ignored for far too long.” This recognition that access to physical education is an educational right signals an important shift by elected officials toward honoring the rights of all students to a sound basic education by providing the learning resources to which they are entitled.

Suitable facilities is just one of the important educational resources necessary to fulfill students’ rights in this area. As noted in the recently released New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) report, Leveling the Playing Field: Access to Physical Education in New York City’s Public School System, many New York City students also lack access to state-mandated hours of PE instruction. Students in kindergarten to third grade, Black children, and children with disabilities are reported as most affected.

More information on the physical-education opportunities mandated by New York State statutes, regulations, and judicial requirements can be found in our Know Your Educational Rights handout on that topic. Information on the full range of students’ educational rights under state law is detailed in our December 2012 report Essential Resources. (Note that we plan to release the second edition of Essential Resources by fall 2017 to reflect recent policy changes.)

Statewide Implications of June 27th New York Court of Appeals Educational-Equity Decision

Courtroom_of_the_New_York_Court_of_AppealsOn Tuesday, June, 27, 2017, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, issued a decision upholding the viability of all of the plaintiffs’ essential claims in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York. The court held that the case could proceed to trial to provide evidence to prove those claims for New York City and Syracuse. (Click here to read the full decision.)

The court clearly affirmed that all students in the state of New York have a constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. For plaintiffs to extend their essential claims beyond New York City and Syracuse to other districts statewide, they must provide further evidence on a district-by-district basis.

The court’s ruling underscores the importance of understanding how resource inequities and inadequacies affect students at the school level. Evidence presented by the NYSER plaintiffs drew on in-depth school-level research conducted by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, to assess the availability of basic educational resources in selected school districts around the state. Information about school-level resources helps policymakers, educators, families, and the courts both assess constitutional compliance and support continuous improvement.

Last fall, the Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE) released a series of reports to help guide state policymakers to develop a constitutional education-resource system. The series includes a research-based policy roadmap entitled Ensuring Resource Accountability that provides recommendations for improved monitoring of the availability of adequate learning opportunities for all students in every New York school.

CEE continues to contribute research, legal analysis, policy development, and public engagement to define and secure the full range of resources, supports, and services necessary to honor students’ right to be prepared for college, careers, and civic participation.

CEE’s Parent and Student Partners Attend NY Court of Appeals Hearing re: Educational Rights

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On May 30th, the Campaign for Educational Equity hosted a group of parent and student partners on a trip to Albany to hear oral arguments for New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York at the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court.

NYSER v. State is a lawsuit that was filed in February 2014—against the State of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and state education officials—on behalf of New York’s public school students. The plaintiffs include several families from across New York State, as well as New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER), a statewide coalition of stakeholder groups that formed to bring the lawsuit. The plaintiffs charge that the state is violating students’ educational rights by neglecting its constitutional obligation to ensure that every school has sufficient funding to provide all students with meaningful educational opportunity.

The May 30th hearing was scheduled after the state appealed a lower court’s ruling against its motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ charges. The state argues that it does not owe schools additional funding; that it does not have a constitutional obligation to change the way it distributes school funding (its foundation aid formula); and that the plaintiffs’ claims not apply to all of the state’s 700-plus districts, but only to New York City and Syracuse.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs articulated the importance of applying their claims to the entire state, the amount of money still owed based on the 2006 CFE ruling, and the obligation to reassess the education-funding formula so that all schools receive adequate funding to provide a meaningful education to all students. The NYSER case is the first case on behalf of all underfunded school districts in New York State rather than limited to certain school districts.

The Court of Appeals’ decision on the lower court’s ruling against the state’s motion to dismiss is expected in late June or early July.

Following the hearing, Chief Judge DiFiore joined our youth and parent collaborators as well as a student group from Yonkers High School to discuss the role of the Court of Appeals in a broader civic context. Although protocol prohibited the chief judge from discussing the NYSER case in that particular setting, the opportunity for our partners to witness the oral arguments and speak with the chief judge enhanced their understanding of education law, how the legal system interacts with policy and political systems, and how parents, students, and other stakeholders can use civic skills to influence the decision-making process.

NYSER is one of many groups that has made use of the Campaign for Educational Equity’s school-based research, legal analysis, and policy development regarding resource inequities affecting New York schools. Interested in learning more about our collaborative efforts to define and secure the full range of resources, supports, and services necessary to guarantee all children, particularly children in poverty and children of color, a meaningful education? Visit the Focus Areas section of our website: http://www.equitycampaign.org/areas-of-focus.

Early Education Forum: Establishing a Right to Pre-K for All New York State’s Children

On May 9th, the Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE) in collaboration with the Center for Children’s Initiatives (CCI) and the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy hosted a forum with participants who are leading the charge for universal pre-K for all children in New York State. This forum debuted the working draft of a white paper, Establishing Universal Access to Prekindergarten as a Constitutional Right, coauthored by CEE and CCI. The paper makes the legal argument for the constitutional right to universal access to pre-K, and advances New York State as the best venue for litigation to affirm that right.

More than 50 national, state, and local policy experts, researchers, advocates, and educators from early childhood and public schools attended the forum to discuss the future of universal pre-K in New York. The significance of this conversation is especially heightened now, as the fourth year of the state’s five-year funding commitment approaches, with no firmly established plan to ensure adequate, stable, sustained, and equitable funding for pre-K going forward.

In the morning session, Michael Rebell, executive director of CEE, set forth the case for making preschool education a fundamental part of the free public education to which all children are entitled, laying out persuasive evidence on the benefits of universal access to pre-K as the foundation tier of public education and the legal precedents for establishing the right. Steve Barnett, executive director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, and Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association, offered insightful comments on how our strategy will serve to stabilize funding and quality of pre-K throughout the state and also addressed the challenges and potential reactions of district superintendents to this additional requirement.

Their remarks were followed by additional important feedback on the strategy from other national, state, and local researchers, advocates, and educators. Many participants’ responses expressed excitement at the potential of establishing pre-K as a constitutional right even as they raised pragmatic questions on implementation. Zoila Morell of Mercy College and Kim Sweet of Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) shared their expertise and insight into the needs of multilingual learners as well as preschoolers with special needs. Christine Johnson-Staub of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) in Washington, D.C., described the potential advantages– as well as the challenges – that expansion of pre-K offers in building a continuum of early childhood services that includes children from birth to three.

The afternoon session took stock of the pre-K landscape in New York State and discussed necessary next steps to make quality pre-K integral to educational opportunity and to assure it is a building block for an early care and learning system. Betty Holcomb, CCI’s policy director, set the stage with a summary of the current state of pre-K in New York. Kate Breslin of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, Jasmine Gripper of the Alliance for Quality Education, Brigit Hurley of The Children’s Agenda, and Randi Levine of AFC shared their policy and strategic expertise on the subject. Representatives from the Long Island Pre-K Initiative presented a vision for regional coordination to support both implementation and advocacy to make pre-K truly universal.

Overall, participants’ support for the value of a rights-based approach to pre-K affirms the importance of this transformative strategy. CEE and CCI plan to finalize our working draft over the summer and release it in the fall, at a second convening with state leaders in Albany.