Education Law Center continues efforts to hold New York education officials accountable for implementing the Contracts for Excellence Law (C4E), a crucial component of the State’s obligation to ensure all students a sound basic education under the New York Constitution.
Under the C4E law, the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) and New York school districts must develop a plan for allocating increases in state aid to resources and programs essential for a sound basic education as determined by the Court of Appeals in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) rulings. The districts’ C4E spending plan must then be vetted through a public process. In NYC, the process includes borough-wide hearings, as well as presentations at the 32 Community Education Councils (CEC) throughout the City.
On October 15, ELC attorney Wendy Lecker argued on behalf of NYC parents and CEC members to secure the right to timely public hearings on how districts allocate funds to essential programs, staff and services in schools, including class size reduction.
The argument, held before the Appellate Division, Third Department, in Albany, challenged NY Education Commissioner John King’s failure to schedule public hearings on districts’ proposed C4E spending plans in time to have meaningful input on how resources are to be allocated in the coming school year.
Over the last several years, Commissioner King has consistently failed to establish a timely schedule for public comment and hearings on district C4E spending plans. The Commissioner had allowed districts to delay the public review until September, well after the NYC DOE and NY districts had already allocated their C4E dollars, thus depriving parents, CEC members and advocates of the opportunity for timely and meaningful input into how these dollars would be spent in classrooms and schools.
In May 2013, ELC sued to compel the Commissioner to establish a timely schedule for the public process, asserting that the late schedules violated the C4E law. ELC appealed a lower court ruling giving the Commissioner discretion to set the schedule. On appeal, ELC argued that the Commissioner cannot exercise discretion in a manner that undermines the core objective of the law. For example, ELC pointed out that the number one concern of NYC parents for years has been reducing overcrowded classes, and that it is unrealistic for Commissioner King to claim that teachers can be hired and classroom space can be found after September.
Last year, ELC successfully sued the NYC DOE on behalf of parents challenging the DOE’s persistent refusal to hold public hearings on NYC’s C4E plan. The case was resolved when Mayor Bill DeBlasio agreed to propose the C4E spending plan in a timely fashion and hold public hearings in June.
ELC will continue to work with parents and advocates to enforce the State’s constitutional obligation to ensure all education funds are used effectively and efficiently to provide all students a meaningful opportunity for a sound basic education. The C4E law represents the only mechanism enacted by the NY Legislature intended to drive funding to specific programs that address pressing student needs, including class size reduction and interventions for at-risk students.
Policy and Outreach Director
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Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications