Yesterday I spent most of the day at NY Senate hearings by the Education and Budget Committees on the Foundation aid formula for school funding, following a series of round table discussions that have been held throughout the state.
The Foundation aid formula which was established in 2007 but has never been fully implemented. NYC schools are owed either $1.1 billion or $1.4 billion from the state, according to different sources, as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision and the Contracts for Excellence law passed in 2007. Statewide, the unmet need varies from about $3.4 billion to $4.2 billion according to whom you ask. Some of the witnesses said there should be a two-year phase in, and others a three-year phase in of these amounts.
There were many experts in school finance, some who said the formula was so badly flawed it should be improved before funding it, and others who said we can't wait for this to happen. They argued that our schools need more resources now because students are suffering, and can't wait. They said that the state legislature and Governor need to fully fund the original formula and worry about tweaking the formula later.
The first witness was Lindsey Oates, the Chief Financial Officer of the NYC Department of Education who began with a long account about how wonderfully our schools are doing, from rising graduation rates, more students taking SATs, more preK, yadda yadda yadda. The thrust of her remarks would make any listener think that our schools don't really need more funding at all.
When asked what they would do with the additional $1.1 billion, she echoed Carranza: all schools' Fair student funding would be brought up to 100% and then principals could do with the money what they want. In the DOE experience, this usually meant primarily the hiring of more staff of one kind or another. She said it would cost $750 million to bring all schools up to 100%, though a couple of years ago, the IBO estimated less than $500 million. [Update: DOE is now including pension and fringe costs
NYC Council Education Committee chair Mark Treyger was a far more effective witness in outlining the crying lack of counselors, social workers and teachers to provide reasonable class sizes, and argued that the need to fund these positions are "non-negotiable."
The results of a recent survey of School Superintendents throughout the state was released, reporting a sharp increase in the number of English Language learners and students diagnosed with disabilities who need more support, and a need in many districts to supply more mental health services to their students.
Sen. Robert Jackson, the lead plaintiff in the original CFE lawsuit, was vociferous about the fact that the state was in non-compliance with the court decision, and that the Legislature must take action in response.
Sen. John Liu was especially biting in his questions, and pointed out that it would be impossible to find the billions of dollars required unless the Governor Cuomo softened his opposition to allowing the state budget to increase by more than two percent in any year, even if more revenue is raised through a tax increase for the super wealthy.
Liu asked Michael Mulgrew, President of the UFT and Andy Pallotta of the state teacher's union NYSUT, “Will you stand with us and demand that he throw this ridiculously arbitrary 2 percent spending increase cap out the window?” They nodded yes.
Sen. Shelley Mayer, the Committee chair, seemed most concerned with accountability compared with other legislators, and asked Michael Mulgrew how we could be sure that the additional funding would be well-spent. He replied rather incongruously that NYC teachers needed new curriculum and training to properly implement the new standards.
I focused on the need to strengthen the accountability, enforcement and maintenance of effort provisions of the Contract for Excellence law, so that we could ensure that a significant portion of these funds be spent on lowering class size, especially in NYC.
Class size was a central focus of the original lawsuit and the court decision that concluded that class sizes were too large to provide NYC students with their constitutional right to a sound, basic education. And yet class sizes have risen even higher since that decision was rendered, especially in the early grades. I included charts with the latest class size data from this fall.
I also pointed out that $2.1 billion was being diverted out of the DOE budget to charter schools, and while every other district in the district receives "transitional aid" to make up for some of the funding lost to charters, NYC does not.
My testimony is posted here and below.