In testimony today before the "New NY Education
Reform Commission", Education Law Center (ELC) is urging
that the Commission recommend restoration of billions in
state foundation aid cut from New
York schools since 2010, in order to ensure all New York
schoolchildren have the resources needed for a constitutional "sound
Governor Cuomo established
this Commission in April 2012, with goals that include examining education funding, distribution and costs, and improving student achievement. The Commission's preliminary recommendations are due to the Governor December 1.
ELC, known for its advocacy on behalf of New Jersey schoolchildren, has recently taken up the groundbreaking efforts of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) to secure the constitutional rights of New York State's children to a sound basic education.
In its Statement to the Commission, ELC Executive Director David Sciarra noted that, in the CFE litigation, the New York Court of Appeals defined the constitutional right to a "sound basic education" as "a meaningful high school education" that prepares all students for productive civic participation. The Court ordered the State to determine the resources needed to provide this opportunity for the 1.1 million schoolchildren in New York City - the focus of the CFE case - but expressly invited the Governor and Legislature to address those resource needs for the almost 3 million children statewide.
After responding to the Court by enacting the Foundation Aid Formula in 2007, and funding its phase in for two years, the State has slashed funding to levels not seen since 2007-08. The State's failure to fund its own formula has had a devastating impact on schools statewide, especially those schools recently identified as 'priority schools,' targeted for intervention and possible closure under the State's new NCLB waiver accountability system.
State aid cuts have reached state constitutional dimensions in many high need districts. New York's small city districts, for example, will soon offer evidence in the Hussein litigation of the serious deficiencies in their educational programs and academic performance caused by the state's drastic funding cuts.
"The Commission's first order of business must be restoration of the over $5.5 billion in basic state school aid, guaranteed to all children to ensure a constitutional education," Mr. Sciarra said. "The State's failure to provide this funding has caused major cuts to instructional staff, programs, and services, especially in high need schools. This funding is also essential to support any new reforms designed to close achievement gaps."
Mr. Sciarra strongly urged the Commission to recommend to the Governor that the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula be put back on a four-year cycle to fully phase in and restore what is now at least a $5.5 billion funding shortfall, compared to the 2007 law.
ELC's testimony calls on the Commission "to take a courageous stand for our schoolchildren," noting that New York's schoolchildren "are constitutionally entitled to receive this aid" under the standards established in the landmark CFE
Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), said in testimony to the Commission that the State "has turned its back on its constitutional obligation to provide a quality education to every child. Governor Cuomo's education commission is charged with 'prioritizing spending in high-need school districts.' The ELC Campaign for Fiscal Equity project has laid out the legal facts; in order to fulfill its mandate the Commission must recommend that the state restore its commitment to fully and fairly funding high need schools in compliance with the CFE court order."
In addition to fair school funding, Mr.
Sciarra urged the Commission to recommend a bold initiative
to ensure 'universal, high-quality preschool, particularly
for children from low income families and children living
in high poverty communities." ELC reminded the Commission's
members that it is 'indisputable that the investment in high
quality preschool yields benefits that far outpace the cost,
in increased academic achievement, decreased rates of special
education services, increased earning potential, decreased
incarceration rates and more.'