BY: DAVID G. SCIARRA
In his proposed 2017-18 budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling for repeal of New York’s Foundation Aid Formula, the 2007 law responding to the landmark case, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE).
The Formula was carefully designed to deliver funding for the essential resources all New York school children need to achieve the state’s academic standards, including additional resources needed for students in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. The Formula was also designed to drive increases in state aid to high need schools across the state, addressing New York’s longstanding disparities between high poverty, low wealth and low poverty, high wealth school districts.
In the 2003 CFE ruling, New York’s highest court declared the state’s method of funding schools violated New York City students’ constitutional right to a “sound basic education.” The Court of Appeals sharply criticized the funding system, calling it a “political process” that allocates funds to schools in a way that “does not bear a perceptible relation to the needs of” public school children.
In the wake of CFE, the Legislature enacted the Formula to move the state from funding schools based on available dollars and raw politics to year-to-year determinations based on student and school need. The Formula also allocated school aid based on district fiscal capacity to raise local revenue from property taxes. To accomplish this objective, the Formula provided for a four-year phase-in of increases in state aid, or $5.5 billion statewide, the vast majority targeted to the poorest urban and rural districts.
In 2009, the state froze and then subsequently cut Formula aid. Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has staunchly resisted increasing aid to move districts towards full Formula funding. The Formula remains underfunded by over $4 billion.
The result of the state’s failure has fallen hard on students, especially those in high need schools. Many districts have reduced or eliminated teachers, support staff and other programs deemed essential in CFE for a constitutional education. Yet support for full Formula funding remains strong. Parents, teachers, board members and legislators have stood behind the Formula, demanding Governor Cuomo re-commit to a multi-year phase- in of full Formula aid.
The Governor’s announcement that he wants to eliminate the Formula is a stunning reversal of his 2010 campaign position when he made clear the state’s responsibility for full Formula funding. The Governor recognized the state “is supposed to equalize or come close to equalizing” school funding, declaring that “the state has yet to fully fund” CFE.
Governor Cuomo is following the playbook of Governors in Mississippi and Georgia, states where the existing funding formulas are, like New York, chronically and substantially underfunded. Rather than fully funding the Formula, the Governor wants to wipe it off the books, and with it the current $4 billion shortfall in state foundation aid. By dumping the Formula, the Governor is attempting to avoid accountability for meeting the needs of New York’s school children, needs that the Governor, no matter how hard he tries, cannot pretend don’t exist.
Even worse, repeal of the Formula would be a major step backwards. The Governor wants to turn the clock back to the days when school funding was decided by “three men in a room,” a crass political process soundly rejected by the CFE rulings. We’re confident that legislators will continue to stand behind the Formula and demand that it be fully funded to ensure the needs of school children remain prominent, paramount and fully effectuated in the annual state budget.
David G. Sciarra is Executive Director of Education Law Center. ELC advocates for fair and adequate school funding for New York school children.
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