Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for Education Law Center’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity Project, joined a panel of school finance experts on November 6, 2013, to speak to a packed audience of parents and community members at the Ossining, NY, Board of Education meeting.
Panelists included Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education; Joseph Rogers of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College; Michael Fox of the New York School Boards Association; Steve Golas of Questar BOCES; and Anthony Cashara of School Aid Specialists. Speakers discussed New York State’s failure to fully fund the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula and the impact of underfunding on Ossining and districts across the state.
Ms. Lecker explained that in the landmark case, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE), New York’s highest court rejected the State’s method for allocating education aid, calling it a political system that bore no relationship to student need. In 2007, Governor Eliot Spitzer and the State Legislature committed to reforming the school funding system for all children in the state, instituting the Foundation Aid Formula.
Ms. Lecker noted that, beginning in 2009, the State has reneged on its promise. “We are now back to square one,” she said, “back to allocating State aid in ways that benefit wealthy districts at the expense of needier ones.” As a result, she added, school districts across New York have been forced to cut vital educational services, and many are on the brink of bankruptcy.
The State’s failure to adequately fund the Foundation Aid Formula is being felt acutely in Ossining, a district well known for its award-winning high school science program. Ossining is among a tiny minority (about one percent) of New York school districts that have experienced annual increases in enrollment since the 2008-09 school year; with the student population rising 17% between 2008-09 and 2012-13.. Ossining also has seen a surge in need, with the number of students living in poverty increasing 27% in the same time period.
At the same time, the State has deprived Ossining of approximately $43 million in education aid. The district receives only 55% of the funding to which it is entitled under the Foundation Aid Formula. The district has cut health and transportation expenses and a quarter of a million dollars from administrative costs. But with a large funding gap, Ossining was forced to institute cuts that reach into the classroom, including the loss of over a hundred staff members the last four years. The district now risks losing programs that serve its diverse student population. As one resident noted during the board meeting, they cannot continue to do “less with less.”
Ossining parents, students, community members, school district leaders and local elected officials have joined together to call on the State to unfreeze the Foundation Aid Formula and put New York back on track to funding every child’s “sound basic education.” Read more about how Ossining is fighting back.
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