Find Evidence of Constitutional Violations by New York State
ALBANY, NY – During the week of February 24-28th, the Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a project of the Education Law Center, visited 14 school districts across the state to begin documenting educational resource deficiencies resulting from the state’s failure to meet its obligations under the New York State Constitution. AQE and CFE released a report on the findings at a briefing today for the Assembly Education Committee.
The Key Finding: “We found substantial and compelling evidence of a failure by the Governor and Legislature to provide the resources necessary for all students to receive a “sound, basic education,” as guaranteed by the New York constitution.” Despite often extraordinary efforts by local school leaders and educators the State’s failure to provide adequate educational resources has impeded districts’ ability to provide all students a “sound, basic education.”
Report Highlights Include: Class sizes have risen to over 25 and in some cases over 30. All of the school districts have cut staff in some cases as much as 20% — despite the fact that in many districts student enrollment has actually grown. Some of the most dramatic cuts have been to academic interventions for students not performing at grade level including severe cuts to summer school and to state mandated tutoring. School libraries have been closed, cut hours or have no librarians. Guidance counselors are substantially overloaded and there is a shortage of social workers and school psychologists. Some elementary schools offer no art or no music, foreign languages and elective courses have all been cut—with some districts replacing academic courses with study halls.
With the two houses of the state legislature preparing their education budgets – to be voted on March 12 – AQE and CFE are preparing for a potential school funding lawsuit if the state does not live up to its constitutional obligation this year.
From western New York to Long Island, AQE and CFE met with superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents who shared evidence regarding the educational impacts of the state’s underfunding of their schools.
“The educational resource deficiencies uncovered are extremely distressing. The evidence is crystal clear: Governor Cuomo and the legislature are failing to meet their constitutional obligations to provide for every student’s education. Students don’t get a second chance, the state needs to get it right,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education.
“The State’s school funding cuts are causing severe educational harm to New York’s school children, especially in high need, underfunded city and rural districts,” said David Sciarra, Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project. “The resource deficits in some districts are so palpably inadequate as to deprive children of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.”
“After five years of being on a starvation diet due to losses of aid from New York State, high need/low resource schools like Copiague stand at the precipice. When adjusted for enrollment growth, Copiague now receives $426 less per student in state aid that the 2008-09 school year. We have done all of the right things to slow growth in spending and find economies: re-opening labor contracts, finding efficiencies, reducing staff where we felt we could. However, due to the fact that state revenue has nowhere near kept pace with costs, many of which are beyond our control, we have been forced to use up our reserve funds to balance this deficit each year. We only have a year left where we might be able to do this, at which point we will be fiscally insolvent. We are running on fumes,” said Charles Leunig, Superintendent of Copiague Public Schools.
“Wyoming Central School students received the single highest per pupil cut under the Gap Elimination Adjustment in the entire state – $1,705 per pupil. We have lost over $1.1 million in state aid that the state has taken back from our district to balance the state budget. We no longer have remedial math, enrichment/gifted classes, a school librarian. We have consolidated bus runs, reduced foreign language to mandated 7th and 8th grade Spanish, provide only bagged cold lunch. We are looking at a significant gap between revenues and projected budget. We are a very small school district; this gap will force us to reduce even more opportunities for kids. The Governor says we need to be doing more: I challenge the Governor to visit my school and tell us what more we can do,” said Sandi Duckworth, Superintendent of Wyoming Central School District.
“There is a persistent reluctance to look at funding equity in New York State. The AQE tour has highlighted the deleterious effects of this underfunding, and the Schenectady City School District has suffered tremendously under the current system of funding. This much is clear, if something does not change dramatically, students in poor communities will be deprived of some of the very basic elements that make education recognizable in this state,” said Laurence Spring, Superintendent of Schenectady City School District.
“Although we are experiencing steady increases in enrollment, declining revenue has resulted in abolishing over 100 positions in the past four years. We are losing programs that are essential to our students – library media specialists, athletics, and teacher to student ratios. Unless we receive the funds that we are entitled to, we will find our district closer to educational insolvency,” said Ray Sanchez, Superintendent of Ossining Central School District.
“The GEA and inequitable distribution of state aid for public education is a civil rights issue. It’s hard to fathom that the great state of New York can’t comprehend the damage it’s doing by underfunding public education. This decision of our government today will have grave consequences for generations to come,” said Casey Kosiorek, Superintendent of Byron-Bergen Central School District.
“It is frustrating to see students in rural western New York being educationally penalized simply because of where they live. Students continue to miss out on educational opportunities such as a Business program as our district has to make more programming cuts to make ends meet. All the cuts the district has had to make to teachers, administrators, librarians and support staff end up hurting the educational opportunities available to our students. I fear what rural schools may look like in the near future if they continue to be unfairly underfunded. The state needs to realize all students in New York deserve an equal education,” said Ken Gropp, scoial studies teacher at Byron-Bergen Jr./Sr. High School.
“Herkimer Elementary School has felt the impact of budget cuts with the elimination of our summer school program, music program, lack of funding to support 21st century skills such as technology updates and integration as well as responding to increased demands we are unable to sustain over time. Cuts such as these compromise the school’s ability to provide our students with the same opportunities ALL students should be afforded and simply are not equitable or fair. The students at Herkimer Elementary are just as important and their education should be valued just as much as other students who have not been impacted by the inequity of underfunding by the State,” said Kathleen Carney, Principal of Herkimer Elementary School.
“We were pleased to meet with the Fact Finding Tour representatives to illustrate the impact that the Governor’s 2014-2015 proposed education budget will have on our students. Opportunities in academics, arts education and athletics will be greatly reduced for students next year and will continue to decline without fair and reasonable support. Our school district is projected to receive $830,000 less state aid in 2014-2015 than we received in the 2008-2009 school year. It is our student’s hope that they have a fair opportunity in life with their education,” said Ken Facin, Superintendent of Hoosick Falls Central School District.
“It is a very sad commentary of New York’s prioritization of education system when NYS has been identified as having the worst record for equitable distribution of state education aid combined with the lowest graduation record for black males in the United States. Ignoring the poor, the minority and our English Language Learners, while throwing the educational requirements of the NYS Constitution to the wind, is an embarrassment and an indictment of our political leadership’s failure to this state’s children. Fair and full funding to provide a constitutionally required educational program for ALL our children, is not a political choice, but a basic constitutional requirement that must be brought back to being a top priority of New York State. It is time we move away from being an educational embarrassment to the role of a national leader which we once were,” said Kenneth Eastwood, Superintendent of Middletown Central School District.
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