Success is a blueprint for campaigns in other states and for further school finance reform in New York

With the enactment on May 2 of New York’s FY2024 State Budget, the state’s public school funding formula created in 2007, the Foundation Aid Formula, will finally be fully funded. Full funding is the culmination of years of persistent advocacy by public school supporters across the state to ensure that all children have the opportunity for a constitutionally adequate education.

Education Law Center (ELC) applauds Governor Hochul and the New York State Legislature for reaching this milestone. In 2011, ELC assumed the mission of New York’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity. ELC also served as co-counsel representing parents and students in two additional major school funding lawsuits, Maisto v. State and NYSER v. State, and is a strategic partner with New York organizations that have been fighting for full funding for many years.

The Long Road to Full Funding

In 1992, community school board president and public school parent, Robert Jackson, frustrated by the severe underfunding of New York City public schools, founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), together with attorney Michael Rebell. In 1993, they brought the landmark school funding lawsuit, CFE v. State, which resulted in the state’s highest court declaring New York’s entire school finance system unconstitutional.

In 2007, in response to the lawsuit, New York enacted the Foundation Aid Formula, which was designed to pump an additional $5.5 billion into New York’s public schools, with the majority of the increase targeted to the neediest districts, to be phased in over four years.

New York halted the phase-in in 2008, attributing the stoppage to the recession. But when the recession ended, the state failed to re-start progress toward adequate school funding. Advocates, including now State Senator Jackson, the Alliance for Quality Education, Michael Rebell, and parents and communities statewide, never let up the pressure on lawmakers. Using all avenues of advocacy, they held rallies, lobbied in Albany, and filed or supported two more school funding lawsuits, Maisto v. State and NYSER v. State.

In 2021, the relentless advocacy of public school supporters succeeded when Governor Kathy Hochul committed to fully funding the Foundation Aid Formula by FY2024. Thanks in large part to Senator Jackson, the CFE promise is finally a reality for students across New York State. This year’s enacted budget includes the final installation of the Foundation Aid Formula’s phase-in to full funding.

Time for States to Improve School Funding

This victory illustrates what can be accomplished when advocates, parents, elected officials, and public education supporters maintain pressure on lawmakers to fulfill their constitutional obligation. As detailed in the ELC report, From Courthouse to Statehouse – and Back Again, a win in court is just the first step on what is often a long road to justice. While litigation plays a crucial role in safeguarding students’ constitutional right to an adequate education, ultimately it is legislators who appropriate the funds that ensure all students receive the education they deserve.

New Jersey, one of the states highlighted in ELC’s report, enacted sweeping school funding reform as a result of the landmark Abbott v. Burke school funding lawsuit brought by ELC and supported by advocates across the state. Those advocates, together with ELC, are now urging New Jersey to complete the path to full funding of the state’s school funding formula that the Governor and Legislature agreed to in 2018, and slated for the FY2025 State Budget.

In Pennsylvania, after plaintiffs prevailed in February in that state’s school funding case, William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, advocates are hard at work translating the legal victory into legislative action to reform the Commonwealth’s school finance system. And advocates in North Carolina are using both legal and political advocacy to preserve the historic court order handed down by that state’s Supreme Court, mandating the state fund the comprehensive “sound basic education” plan to which it committed.

Public school advocates across the nation can look to New York as an important model where legal and political advocacy succeeded in transforming public school funding to ensure students the opportunity for a quality education.

What’s Next for New York

But even in New York, the work is not over. Though now fully funded, in the years since its enactment, New York’s Foundation Aid Formula has not kept pace with the changes in public education and student demographics.

Activists statewide must now focus on updating the formula, so it is responsive to the new reality in New York’s public schools and communities. To that end, the New York State Regents’ FY2024 State Aid Proposal included a request for $1 million for the State Education Department to contract with education researchers and engage stakeholders to review the Foundation Aid Formula. Unfortunately, the enacted budget did not include that allocation. ELC intends to partner with advocates statewide to ensure a robust process to engage school finance experts, education professionals, parents, and community members to accomplish this vital goal.

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Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x 240

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240