A report issued today by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Public Policy and Education Fund of NY, the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, and Opportunity Action shows that, in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first term, inequality in funding between poor school districts and wealthy school districts grew over $700 per pupil – from $8,024 to $8,733 – the largest gap in New York history.
The report – “Record Setting Inequality” – comes on the heels of a New York Times editorial criticizing the Governor for focusing on “peripheral” issues in education while ignoring “the inequality in school funding that prevents many poor districts from lifting their children up to state standards.”
The report and editorial shine a spotlight on the importance of the upcoming trial in Maisto v. State of New York, a challenge to the State’s failure to provide adequate resources and funding in eight poor “Small Cities” districts. Education Law Center (ELC), along with the White & Case law firm, has joined William Reynolds of the Albany-based Bond, Schoeneck and King firm and Robert Biggerstaff, as co-counsel to the Plaintiff school children in the Maisto trial.
The report also places responsibility for the explosive growth in funding inequality squarely at the State’s feet. It shows that, as a result of the State’s continuing failure to provide the funding required under the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, New York schools have been shortchanged $5.6 billion in Foundation Aid, most of which would go to the poorest schools. If the State funded the Formula as required by the 2007 law, the inequality gap between wealthy and poor schools would close by over $3,000 per pupil.
The report also details the dire conditions endured by New York’s must vulnerable school children as a result of the State’s funding failures. Poor schools cannot provide the critical resources at-risk students need to succeed in school, such as reasonable class sizes, a sufficient number of qualified teachers, and extra academic and social supports.
The severe funding and resource gaps in poor schools translate directly into gaps in student outcomes. For example, the graduation rate in New York’s wealthiest schools is 92%, while the graduation rate in its poorest schools is only 66%. Even more distressing, while 50% of students in wealthy schools attain an advanced Regents diploma, only 18% of students in poor schools do.
In contrast to New York, the report shows how New Jersey, by directing more funding to its poorest districts, has reaped educational dividends. New Jersey outpaces New York not only in overall graduation rates, but in graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, students with disabilities, African American students and Latino students.
The stark inadequacy of State funding and its devastating consequences for students, as documented by the report, is at the heart of the Maisto case. At the trial, which will begin on January 21 in Albany, the Plaintiff students will show that New York’s persistent underfunding of education has resulted in a severe lack of essential educational resources and low outcomes in their eight small city districts. These deprivations are attributable to the State’s continuing failure to provide adequate funding, in violation of the students’ right to a “sound basic education” under the New York Constitution.
Children in New York’s poor schools need Governor Cuomo to abandon issues that are of marginal or no real importance to their education. Rather, the focus for the Governor and Legislature must be what the New York Times calls the “central crisis” in New York’s public schools. AQE, the New York State Board of Regents and the New York Education Conference Board have all recommended a beginning investment of approximately $2 billion to put the state back on track toward fully funding the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula. Only when New York’s funding gap begins to close will theopportunity gap facing too many students in the state begin to close as well.
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Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications