December 4, 2012
On November 27, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a project of Education Law Center, sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature detailing the history of school finance since passage of the Foundation Aid Formula in 2007. Noting that in recent years the formula has been underfunded by $5.5 billion, the letter states that NY schoolchildren, especially those with the greatest need, are being denied critical educational resources. Below are excerpts from the letter, read the full letter here.
On behalf of New York’s schoolchildren, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (“CFE”) writes to bring to your attention a matter of paramount concern. We understand the State faces many challenges, but none is more important than safeguarding the future of our children. The reality is that today in New York State that future is in peril because our children’s basic educational needs are not being met. As we explain, the State’s underfunding of our public schools is so severe that it amounts to a violation of its constitutional obligation to provide New York’s children with adequate educational resources.
In the landmark CFE decision, New York’s highest court defined a constitutionally “sound basic education” as “a meaningful high school education, one which prepares [students] to function productively as civic participants.”
The Court of Appeals found that State underfunding of New York City Schools resulted in a severe deprivation of critical resources, including certified teachers, reasonable class size, and textbooks, technology and other instrumentalities of learning.
In 2007 the Governor and the Legislature…enacted a statewide school funding remedy to fulfill that constitutional obligation. The new finance system, the Foundation Aid Formula (“2007 Formula”), established a relationship between state aid, the needs of students, and district ability to raise revenue. The Formula was designed to shift the allocation of school aid from political maneuvering to a system responsive to student need and district wealth.
Despite this historic action, the State has defaulted on its constitutional commitment to implement the CFE remedy through the 2007 Formula. In the first two years, the Legislature provided installments of Foundation Aid, totaling $2.3 billion. However, in 2009, aid was frozen at 37.5% of the four-year target, and then cut by 2.7 billion in 2010 and 2011 through the Gap Elimination Adjustment. The GEA was regressive by imposing larger cuts in higher need school districts, resulting in a widening of the resource gap with students in wealthy districts. These cuts were further exacerbated by the highly restrictive Tax Cap Levy enacted in 2011.
Moreover, the Governor and the Legislature adopted a budget maneuver designed to prevent full funding of the 2007 Formula: the Personal Income Growth Index (PIGI) Cap commonly referred to as the cap on state school aid. This cap has the effect of relegating moderate and high need districts to long term underfunding, thereby ensuring that compliance with the constitutional obligations of CFE for students in those districts will never be fulfilled.
At the same time, student need is growing. The Children’s Defense Fund reports that 21% of New York State’s children live in poverty, with 10.1 % living in extreme poverty, a notable increase from 2008. In New York City, a startling 25.8% of children live in poverty, up from 22.9% in 2008. Heightened poverty means more children come to school needing additional educational and social services, thus intensifying the economic burden on school districts. New state and federal mandates only add to the fiscal stress.
The failure to fund the 2007 Formula is depriving students of resources vital to achievement. A new White House report noted that in New York City, the number of elementary students in classes of 30 or more has tripled in the last three years. Thirty-one percent [of districts] reduced summer school and reduced or deferred instructional technology. Districts cut their workforce by an average of 3.9% this year, on top of 4.9% in 2011-12.
It is now plainly evident that our school districts are in a financial and educational crisis. Their outlook for the near future is dire. Forty-one percent of districts forecast financial insolvency within four years and a vast majority, 77%, foresee educational insolvency within the same timeframe. Thus, in just a few years, districts will be unable to fulfill federal and state mandates for instruction and student services.
Even more alarming, the current legislative framework prevents full funding of the 2007 Formula until at least 16 years from now, in 2028. Thus, two more generations of New York children will pass through our schools before the State even begins to approach meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately fund its public schools through implementation of the CFE remedy.
It is incumbent, therefore, that the Foundation Aid under the 2007 Formula be restored, and that the Formula be put back on a four-year cycle to phase-in full funding. We urge you to bring New York State into compliance with the state constitution by making fulfillment of the CFE remedy a top priority for the upcoming budget and legislative session. This priority is not only necessary to reverse the educationally destructive trends of the past three years, but to ensure State fulfillment of its constitutional obligations to New York school children.
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24