Former Gov. Spitzer Underscores NY’s Constitutional School-Funding Obligation

In late January, I wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Daily News that took issue with the position espoused a few days earlier in an op-ed by Paul Francis, currently a Deputy Secretary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and formerly the Budget Director for Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Francis had claimed that the Foundation Aid formula, the state’s primary mechanism for distributing school funding, that was adopted by the New York State legislature in 2007, was merely “aspirational” and had not been a constitutionally mandated response to the Court of Appeals’ orders in the CFE litigation.

Yesterday’s Times Union op-ed by former Gov. Spitzer fully confirms that the Foundation Aid formula was indeed “constitutionally mandated.” Below is Spitzer’s statement.

Michael A. Rebell

Times Union, 2/15/17: Funding our schools adequately has long been viewed as a moral imperative. In 2006, it also became a constitutional imperative.

That year, the New York Court of Appeals, our highest court, issued a final ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, holding that all children in New York state have the constitutional right to a “sound basic education.” Unfortunately, the court also found we were failing to fulfill that obligation.

The bipartisan budget that was enacted in 2007 confronted this failure and constitutional obligation directly — we substituted a backroom politically driven funding process that had both underfunded and misallocated education aid with a new Foundation Aid formula. We put in place a data-driven overhaul of the way New York funded its public schools. The court ruling created a legal imperative that brought political agreement to an arena traditionally fraught with divisiveness.

The Foundation Aid formula was proposed and enacted as a direct result of the CFE litigation. As contentious as school funding debates had often been, there was agreement that Foundation Aid was a principled and constitutionally mandated step forward. The Republican Senate majority said the Foundation Aid formula fulfilled “the mandate of the Court of Appeals decision in CFE vs. The State of New York,” and the Democratic Assembly leadership said it “addresses the court-ordered requirements of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.”

The new formula responded to the Court of Appeals’ order that the state “align funding with need” based upon the “actual costs” of providing a “sound basic education.” The new Foundation Aid formula calculated these actual costs and recognized that the programs and services needed by students who are economically disadvantaged, those with disabilities, and English language learners are often more costly.

The new structure of Foundation Aid was designed to increase classroom operating aid by $5.5 billion statewide, phased in over four years — plus an allowance for inflation, as ordered by the Court. In the 2007-08 and 2008-09 state budgets, the funding increases were delivered on schedule.

But in the years since, the formula has been chronically underfunded. As a result, New York is now in the company of states like Mississippi and Georgia where, year-in and year-out, funding formulas are consistently ignored to the detriment of students.

And today, a decade later, as a consequence, we see in far too many schools the same conditions that led to the CFE lawsuit in the first place. That’s why I am especially disappointed that the current budget proposal would eliminate the Foundation Aid formula entirely and, with it, the $4.3 billion still owed under the formula to our schools.

The lack of funding means that, across New York, we will continue to see the glaring educational deficits we intended to address through funding the Foundation Aid formula. Elementary-grade classes are crowded with 30 students or more. Schools lack enough specialized teachers for English language learners. Guidance counselors serve 400 to 800 students, leaving little opportunity for individualized attention for students. School libraries operate with reduced hours. Summer school classes and tutoring are in short supply for students who have fallen behind and are at risk of dropping out.

New York can and must do better. We all now acknowledge that as a moral, constitutional and economic imperative we have to invest properly in the education of our children. Yet today we still are not providing children with what they are entitled to and deserve — the opportunity for a “sound basic education.”

The good news is that the solution is still on the books. Foundation Aid was enacted to comply with the court order in CFE. It’s time for the state to fund the formula fully, not repeal it.

Parent Leaders ‘Take the Law into Their Own Hands’ at Legislative Breakfast

On Saturday, February 11, an outstanding team of Central Brooklyn parent leaders affiliated with the Adelaide Sanford Institute’s (ASI) Parent Leadership Institute and supported by the Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE), outlined New York students’ educational rights and presented their own rights-focused legislative requests at a well-attended breakfast with city and state elected officials, parent leaders and their children, and local civic leaders. Please read our “Movement-Building” backstory and then the legislative-breakfast reflection by Earline and Priscilla Mensah, a dynamic Parent Leadership Institute mother-daughter duo.

By Joe Rogers, Jr., Director of Public Engagement / Senior Researcher, Campaign for Educational Equity

In May 2015, CEE’s Know Your Educational Rights public-engagement and research team launched a partnership with the ASI’s Parent Leadership Institute to facilitate monthly Saturday-morning educational-rights workshops, which ultimately informed over 100 parent leaders about students’ resource-related rights under New York State law. Some participants, curious about the levels of opportunity available to their children, began using our research tools to assess and report back on the availability of basic resources in their schools. The parents also benefited from candid school-resource-related conversations with a number of master educators.

In return, the parents contribute invaluable feedback and advice to help strengthen our Know Your Educational Rights handouts and tools, provide useful recommendations on how to engage the education bureaucracies in assuming responsibility for informing families of students’ rights, and continue to inspire our team with their outstanding commitment to making sure all students in their neighborhoods, not just their children, receive the quality opportunities to which they are entitled. Through their words and actions, they embody “it takes a village to raise a child.”

In September 2016, a smaller group of those parent leaders, known as the “Know Your Educational Rights Parent Ambassadors,” kicked off a months-long campaign to share their new knowledge at important forums throughout Central Brooklyn, including the public meetings of several Community Education Councils, Community Board education committees, parent associations, and the Brooklyn Borough High School Presidents Council. Inspired by the Parent Ambassadors’ powerful leadership, and grateful for the valuable new information, parents and other community members around Brooklyn and throughout NYC have begun to call upon state and local elected and education officials to inform all families about students’ educational rights by September 2017.

By Earline Mensah, Parent Ambassador, Parent Leadership Institute (Adelaide Sanford Institute) & President, Brooklyn Borough High School Presidents Council; Priscilla Mensah, Member, Parent Leadership Institute (Adelaide Sanford Institute)

“BBCCSSSE” is what you heard dozens of parents and elected officials chanting in the library of Bedford Stuyvesant’s very own Boys and Girls High School this past Saturday. This is because, on Saturday February 11, 2017, the Adelaide Sanford Institute hosted its annual legislative breakfast featuring elected officials and other members of the community, such as parents and educators.

One of the main themes of the program involved Dr. Renee Young teaching the audience members the “BBCCSSSE” chant, which stands for New York students’ fundamental resource-related rights under the state constitution: “books” (and other instructional materials, supplies, and technology), “buildings” (facilities), [appropriate] “class size,” [suitable and up-to-date] “curricula,” “services” (for students struggling academically), “safe [and orderly] environment,” “smart” (qualified educators and other school personnel), and services for English Language Learners and students with disabilities. In attendance were Assembly Members Latrice Monique Walker and Annette Robinson (retired), Council Members Inez Barron and Al Vann (retired), and State Senators Roxanne Persaud and Kevin Parker.

Parents were given the opportunity to voice their demands—to inform all parents of students’ rights by this fall and to create a network of Central Brooklyn parent resource centers—and concerns to the elected officials. Other notables included NAACP Brooklyn Chapter president L. Joy Williams; Director of the Adelaide Sanford Institute Dr. Christopher Smith; two of the hosts of the forum, Drs. Renee and Lester Young, the former of whom leads ASI’s Parent Leadership Institute and the latter of whom serves as ASI’s board chair and on the New York State Board of Regents; and Joe Rogers, Jr., of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University.

The morning was filled with presentations by parent leaders Earline Mensah, Lorraine Calame, and husband-and-wife team Cora Cuffey and Barry Lelitte speaking on the resources and supports that all New York State students are entitled to under the law. Before the presentation, few in the room were aware of those rights; thanks to the “BBCCSSSE” incantation, we’re sure that has greatly changed. The atmosphere was positive and inviting, with many people, including the elected officials and community leaders, winning early Valentine’s Day chocolates for demonstrating their mastery of “BBCCSSSE.”