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EDUCATION JUSTICE - ELC's National Program March 18, 2015
 
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NY PAYS "USUAL SUSPECTS" TO RECYCLE "MONEY DOESN'T MATTER" DEFENSE IN SMALL CITIES TRIAL

In the final days of trial in Maisto v. State of New York -- the "Small Cities" case -- the State brought on Eric Hanushek and David Armor to mount the time-worn, discredited "money doesn't matter" defense. Hanushek and Amor have spent their careers being handsomely paid to testify across the country against public school students who are challenging the lack of funding, resources and educational opportunity in their schools, based on state constitutional guarantees. In almost all of these cases, the courts have flatly rejected their arguments.

Notable about Hanushek and Armor's appearance in the Small Cities case is that they gave the same testimony 15 years ago in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State case, a challenge to inadequate educational opportunities for New York City students. In that case, the Hanushek and Armor "money doesn't matter" argument was dismissed outright by the trial court and the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court. Even in the face of this record, the New York Attorney General again retained Hanushek and Armor to recycle their contentions , this time against the Plaintiffs in the Small Cities case -- students in eight high-poverty, upstate school districts.

Hanushek and Armor were cross examined in the Small Cities trial by Gregory Little of the White & Case law firm in New York City. Mr. Little represents the Small Cities students pro bono, serving as lead trial counsel with William Reynolds of the Bond Shoeneck firm in Albany. Education Law Center also serves on the trial team. In 2011, Mr. Little cross examined Hanushek in Abbott v. Burke where he unsuccessfully testified in defense of Governor Chris Christie's massive $1.1 billion school funding cut.

On cross examination by Mr. Little, Hanushek acknowledged that several courts around the country have found the data underlying his opinion that money makes no difference in improving outcomes and opportunities not to be credible. Hanushek conceded that, in contrast to the Small Cities officials who detailed the resource deficits and low academic outcomes in their districts, he has never served as a K-12 teacher, administrator or local board member. In the face of no relevant experience and almost no recent data, Hanushek stood by his views that there is little, if any, difference between class sizes of 15 and 40.

Armor, who was paid approximately $70,000 by the State, gave his stock opinion that substantial school funding increases would have either no or very small impact on student achievement. Armor also testified that the most significant factor influencing academic achievement is a student's socioeconomic status. He also explained his theory that "lifestyle" differences between black and white families---including the amount of emotional and instructional support they provide their children---contribute to the achievement gap. During his career, Armor frequently testified against school desegregation, arguing that integration does not improve outcomes for students of color.

Mr. Little brought out that neither Hanushek nor Armor had any familiarity with the eight Small Cities districts. In preparing for their testimony, neither witness visited any of the eight districts and, when asked to identify them, Hanushek could recall only two by name. Hanushek acknowledged that he did not attempt to interview any teachers, principals or superintendents from these districts to discern how they are using their funds. In fact, he baldly stated that he chose not to review the budgets of any of the Small Cities districts because he did not consider them relevant.

Likewise, Mr. Little elicted the admission that neither Hanushek nor Armor analyzed the impact of the underfunding of New York's 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, which would have provided a substantial increase in basic education resources to the Small Cities districts over the last five years. The State's failure to fund the Foundation Aid Formula is a major issue in the Small Cities case.

Under questioning by Mr. Little, Hanushek conceded that, if school districts spend money wisely, additional funds can improve academic results. However, he stated his view that districts should be judged on whether they spend funds wisely solely on past test score results. He said that he considered irrelevant the specifics of district spending, such as whether they hired reading specialists and social workers or provided programs and services such as full-day pre-K and kindergarten. His testimony made clear that the availability of programs proven to raise achievement are of no interest to him. Even stauncher in his views, Armor denied that increased spending could have a meaningful effect on achievement, disagreeing with the numerous local Small Cities educators who testified on their schools' dire need for increased educational resources to support academic success. His testimony also conflicted with many of the State's own district-specific experts, who conceded that extra resources would have helped the Small Cities districts to improve their academic outcomes.

Testimony in the Small Cities trial concluded on March 12, 2015. The parties are scheduled to provide post-trial submissions over the next several months, followed by a decision by the trial court.

Related Stories:

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

mhunter@edlawcenter.org

973-624-1815, x 19

 
     
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