Monday, January 26, 2009

Did the CFE lawsuit fail?

Check out the article in the Village Voice, "The Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit Was the Best Hope for City Schools. It Failed."

The article describes how a stunning lack of accountability on the part of the city and flawed state oversight has led to a situation in which we will never know how more than $1 billion in additional state aid that our schools received as a result of the CFE case was spent.

These funds were supposed to improve what the state's highest court found were constitutionally inadequate classroom conditions -- including excessive class sizes -- and yet last year, the NYC failed to make any of its class size reduction targets . Which is not entirely surprising as the DOE and Joel Klein have never made a secret of their disdain for our students' need for smaller classes.

Indeed, in September, the State Education Department criticized NYC for misusing hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid. The State ordered NYC to improve its compliance this year.

Yet according to the figures released by the DOE in December, class sizes increased in all grades but one -- for the first time in ten years. Where does this leave our children, who continue to suffer with the largest class sizes in the state? and how much worse will it likely be next year, with all the proposed state and city budget cuts?

Today, Council member Robert Jackson, the original plaintiff in the CFE case, sent a letter to Commissioner Mills. Here is an excerpt from his full letter:

"...I am writing to lodge a vigorous complaint about the failure of the New York City Department of Education [DOE] to meet required standards for class size reduction established by the State of New York in the historic “Contract for Excellence” [C4E] funding agreement that arose from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity [CFE] lawsuit.

Through thirteen years of litigation, CFE sought to compel the state to relieve over-crowding and reduce class size. As the lead plaintiff in that lawsuit, I have an abiding personal interest in that objective. Yet I am seeing current kindergarten registers with numbers like 24, 26, and 27 students in my local school district. More than 40% of NYC students are in schools that are officially overcrowded citywide; and 62-87% of students, depending on the grade level, are crowded in classes that exceed the goals of the city’s state-mandated class size reduction plan and averages in the rest of the state.

...The language in the “Contract for Excellence” gives the Department of Education a clear directive regarding class size....You and I have a shared obligation to the citizens and residents of New York to insist that public resources be spent responsibly and as directed by law."

Who is at fault? Clearly, the DOE, under the mis-leadership of Joel Klein, has failed our students. As he runs around the country with Al Sharpton, proclaiming loudly about the need for educational equality and for the nation to address the achievement gap, he is violating law and all ethical standards by allowing the inequitable conditions in NYC schools to remain - and refusing to enact one of the few reforms -- class size reduction-- that research shows actually narrows this gap.

As I argue in the Village Voice article, the attorneys in the CFE case were also remiss, by not insisting in court that NYC schools not merely receive more funding, but that the unconstitutional conditions that triggered the lawsuit -- including overcrowding and excessive class sizes -- were actually addressed.

Check out the State's excoriating letter and report, released in September, showing that NYC misused last year's funding for smaller classes; and this letter sent by Class Size Matters, the UFT and Hispanic Federation to Commissioner Mills in December, pointing out that this year, the situation has worsened -- with class sizes increasing in all grades for the first time in ten years, and with increases in grades K-3 so drastic that they wiped out five years of improvement.

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