New York public school parents scored a victory today in a State Supreme Court decision ordering the City Department of Education (DOE) to hold timely borough-wide Contract for Excellence (C4E) public hearings for the 2013-14 school year and future years.
Several New York City public school parents filed suit against Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the DOE in March for depriving them of their statutory rights under New York’s Contract for Excellence law to provide timely input into the City’s annual school spending plan. Education Law Center’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) project represented the parents in the lawsuit.
The C4E law was designed to ensure that the public has input on how DOE spends state school aid by requiring one public hearing in every borough of New York. However, for the past two years the DOE has flagrantly violated the law by failing not only to hold hearings in a timely manner , but to hold any borough-wide public hearings at all. The DOE’s action completely eliminated the public process required by the C4E law, thus preventing parents from participating in the development of the City’s annual C4E school spending plan.
“Public participation and transparency are critical components of the C4E law, enabling parents to have a say in how vital education dollars will be spent in their children’s schools,” said Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for CFE. “This ruling by the court vindicates the legal right of parents to hold the DOE accountable for the effective and efficient use of school funding.”
Judge Peter Moulton ruled that the DOE directly violated the C4E law, which “mandates that DOE hold [C4E] public hearings in each of the five boroughs,” and that the DOE must hold these hearings in all future school years.
“Thank you to Judge Moulton for counteracting the disdain the DOE has for public school parents, who choose ‘reducing class sizes’ as their top priority every year on the learning environment survey,” said Lisa Shaw, a parent of four and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Students are tested to the extreme for so-called accountability purposes, but rarely is anyone able to hold Chancellor Wolcott accountable. The Judge did so in this decision.”
“Finally, the city is going to have to follow the C4E law, and hold borough hearings and listen to parents, BEFORE the $600 million in annual funds have been spent,” said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters. “The law was written specifically to require public input in the planning and spending of these dollars. Partly as a result of the broken process and lack of enforcement, class sizes have ballooned out of control, audits are rendered meaningless, and NYC children are now worse off than before the CFE case was decided.”
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