For the next school year, New York City’s schools will receive their largest increase in state aid for basic school operations in five years — approximately $350 million — but the operating budget for almost all of the schools will be the same as last year. The increase in state aid has been earmarked for the following categories in the mayor’s budget that was approved in principle with slight modifications by the City Council last week:
Expansion of After-School Programs $145 million
Charter Schools $93 million
Expanded Arts Instruction $23 million
English Language Learners $13 million
Teacher Evaluation $18 million
School Technology $20 million
Funding for New Schools $10 million
Facilities Improvements $10 million
Miscellaneous $12 million
Certainly, increasing funding for the expansion of after-school programs, additional funding for English language learners, and other programs slated to receive these increases are important initiatives that deserve at least this level of support. The $300 million in new state funding for a major expansion of full day pre-kindergarten programs — which is being provided outside the regular state aid for education budget — is also a welcome and long-overdue augmentation of educational opportunities for the city’s children.
But the fact remains that, at the building level, principals and teachers who for years have been struggling with inadequate resources to provide their students the opportunity for a sound basic education that is every child’s right under the state constitution will feel little relief in the months to come. Throughout the city, class sizes will remain far above reasonable levels, students needing extra assistance will not get the academic intervention services called for in the commissioner’s regulations, required course offerings, not to mention electives and extracurricular activities will be limited, and guidance counselors, social workers, and other vital support staff will be in short supply. (For a detailed description of the lack of basic educational services in high needs schools in New York City and throughout the state, see Deficient Resources (Campaign for Educational Equity, 2012), available at http://www.equitycampaign.org/index.asp?Id=PUBLICATIONS&Info=Essential+and+Deficient+Resources+Reports. For user-friendly briefs on students’ educational rights, see CEE’s Know Your Educational Rights series, available at http://www.equitycampaign.org/index.asp?Id=PUBLICATIONS&Info=Know+Your+Educational+Rights+Handouts).
The root of this problem is the state’s failure to comply with the constitution and with the orders of the Court of Appeals in the CFE v. State of New York litigation. In 2007, following the court’s finding that students in New York City were being denied their constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education, the governor and the legislature adopted a new funding system that promised to provide students in the City over $5 billion in increased state aid, to be phased in over the next four years. The state meet that obligation for the first two years, but then, starting in 2009 after the recession hit, the state first froze further increases and then began to slash aid appropriations dramatically. The “increases” that the legislature has approved for the past few years are really not increases at all, but reductions in the continuing pattern of budget cuts. As of next year, the state aid for New York City’s school children will still be about $2.2 billion below the level of annual funding called for under the foundation formula.
Plaintiffs in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York, a recently filed lawsuit, are trying to remedy this situation (Michael Rebell, executive director of CEE, is pro-bono co-counsel for the plaintiffs). They are asking the State Supreme Court to enforce compliance with the CFE decisions. This week, they filed a preliminary injunction motion (see http://www.nyser.org/preliminary-injunction-motion.html) that asks the judge to prohibit the state from continuing to implement their “gap elimination adjustment” (GEA), a method the state has used since the recession to subtract money from state education aid to fill a “gap” in state revenues. This year, when the state has no “gap” and is implementing $2 billion in new tax cuts, continued use of the GEA is particularly unconscionable. If plaintiffs prevail on this motion, the city’s schools would get an immediate $250 funding increase. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña need to join the NYSER plaintiffs in demanding that the state cease its unconstitutional and unfair tactics and provide sufficient funding to allow all of the city’s schools to provide their students the full range of educational opportunities to which they are entitled.