"Governor Cuomo has promoted himself as a leader in education policy. His mastery of Albany’s famously dysfunctional politics has made him one of the nation’s rising political stars. But the results in the classroom do not match his rhetoric — and unless our state government changes course on education funding policy, they never will." Article by Billy Easton, "Albany's Unkindest Cut of All", May 25th, 2012
"Poor school districts are being forced to cut electives, remedial tutoring, foreign languages and other programs and services to balance budgets. Many schools in less prosperous areas face what the state commissioner of education calls “educational insolvency.”
"Only five years ago, the state committed to pumping $5.5 billion into classrooms, with 72 percent slated for the neediest schools, whether in urban, rural or suburban communities. This commitment, similar to those made in other states, came after 13 years of litigation by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, based on the state Constitution’s guarantee of a “sound, basic education” for all students. Unfortunately, that progressive commitment was abandoned as the state faced fiscal hard times."
"New York started cutting education resources in 2009."
"The problem grew worse in 2010 and 2011, when Albany made $2.7 billion in school aid cuts, resulting in the loss of 30,000 educators and increased class sizes at two-thirds of the state’s schools."
"A new statewide cap on how high local revenues can be raised is further exacerbating educational inequities. The cap limits property tax hikes to 2 percent, which may sound fair but actually contributes to school inequality: the permitted tax increase raises a lot more revenue from million-dollar homes for wealthy schools than it raises on $100,000 homes for poorer schools."
"Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been the most vocal proponent both of cutting and capping state school aid and of capping local revenues."
Article by Board of Cooperative Educational Services, May 2012
Q. Will the tax cap legislation affect all school districts equally?
"The tax cap legislation will affect all districts to varying degrees, but it is clear that some will be affected much more than others. In particular, for poor and/or rural school districts with low property wealth and declining tax bases, staying within their “tax levy limits” will severely restrict their ability to generate the revenues needed to sustain core educational programs."
"This discrepancy is largely rooted in what an increasing number of school leaders say is an unfair formula for distributing state aid to districts around the state."
What is the right to a “Sound, basic education?”
The right to a sound, basic education is rooted in Article XI, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution, which states, “the legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.”
Yet it was a 1982 court decision, Board of Education, Levittown Union Free School District v Nyquist, which interpreted Article XI to establish the state’s responsibility to provide a sound, basic education for every student. But what is a “sound, basic education?”
In 2003, a New York Court of Appeals decision in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York offered a definition. A sound, basic education is "The opportunity for a meaningful high school education, one which prepares them to function productively as civic participants." In this decision, the court found that the state violated the Constitution by failing to provide New York City public schools adequate resources to deliver a sound, basic education.
This additional topic evaluates New York’s public education system ten years after CFE v. State of New York. With many school districts underfunded and grossly unequal, we must ask, is New York State meeting its constitutional obligation to provide all students a sound, basic education?
New York Education, Unequal and Underfunded
New York State will invest nearly $14 billion in statewide education during FY 2013, placing it third nationally, behind only California and Texas. Yet as the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) shows in their 2013 report, New York also ranks fifth nationally for having the biggest gap between the rich and poor districts on spending per pupil. This inequity, where those schools most in need receive the least support, violates our children' right to a sound, basic education as promised in our New York State Constitution.
· There is an $8,601 per pupil spending gap between the state’s wealthiest and poorest school districts;
· As many as one third of schools in poor districts do not have enough art teachers to meet state requirements for art, and over half of these schools fail to meet the state’s minimum requirements for physical education;
· Due to recent budget cuts, 77 percent of superintendents of schools across the state say they will be unable to fund all state and federal mandates within four years, and 17 percent will not be able to fund these mandates beyond just two years.
Why is school funding distributed unequally?
New York’s schools receive funding from the federal government, the state government, and local governments. The funding provided by local government is significant. Raising upwards of $30 billion annually in property taxes, local governments spend over 60 percent of this amount, or $20 billion, supporting local schools.
Yet forcing schools to depend on revenue from taxes guarantees inequality between wealthy and poor school districts. Even before the economic crisis, poorer districts saw their tax base shrinking, with fewer dollars going to support essential school programs.
Additionally, in 2011, the State Legislature limited the amount local governments could increase property tax revenue in a year to just 2 percent, further restricting the ability of schools to raise extra revenue.
Unfortunately, state funding is insufficient to address this inequality. The Governor’s FY 2013 budget was an improvement on previous years, providing an additional $321 million in classroom aid through Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) restorations and $203 million in “Fiscal Stabilization Funds.”
Though this seems substantial, similar restorations during FY 2012 failed to stem the tide of education cuts, with 59% of schools across the state increasing class size, 15% of schools reducing art classes, and 31% of schools reducing summer school due to budget constraints.
These cuts are just the latest in 5+ years of financial hardship. The Utica school district is not unusual in that, over the past four years, it was forced to cut 311 positions, of which 175 were teachers.
How does this underfunding impact schools?
The result of underfunding at the state level and reliance on local property taxes at the municipal level is massive inequality between New York’s wealthiest schools districts and its poorest, with poorer districts spending an average of $8,601 less per student than wealthier districts.
Expenditures Per Pupil
Table provided by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) in “Confronting the Opportunity Gap.”
This discrepancy translates to larger classes and fewer extracurricular activities, personalized coaching, and advanced placement (AP) courses for poorer students.
The following summary of programs available to students in four wealthy school districts, provided by AQE, illustrates this disparity.
Scarsdale (Westchester) High School offers 15 AP courses and another 6 college preparatory and SAT preparation courses, 21 art classes, 28 performing arts classes, 4 foreign languages, 21 sports teams, and an intensive college preparatory process that includes annual guidance counseling, college planning and a college testing program for 9th to 12th grades.
Rye (Westchester) offers 22 AP courses, 27 sports teams, high school programs such as performing arts (drama, vocal, dance), tutoring, and a writing mentor program. In the elementary schools, class sizes are limited to 20 students and middle school classes are limited to 23 students.
Chappaqua (Westchester) has only 1,300 students and offers 72 sports teams, 2 student publications, 85 clubs and 50% of students taking advantage of 18 AP course (with an 81% success rate).
Jericho (Nassau) High School offers 26 college or AP courses (including Chinese, business law, and civil engineering), 26 arts and performing arts classes, 10 business classes, 6 foreign languages, and 20 sports teams.
The AQE also found that, out of eight low income school districts, one third did not enough art teachers to meet state requirements, more than half of the schools failed to meet the state’s minimum requirements for physical education, and all but one school were unable to provide students with college readiness counseling and support.
The result is predictable: students attending schools in poorer districts are 27% less likely to graduate than students in wealthier districts. Their likelihood of graduating adequately prepared for college relative to their more affluent peers is lower still.
Why is this a Constitutional Question?
As discussed in the introduction, the 1982 court decision in Board of Education, Levittown Union Free School District v Nyquist established the state’s responsibility in providing a sound, basic education for every student, later defined as the "opportunity for a meaningful high school education, one which prepares them to function productively as civic participants." In school districts unable to raise sufficient funds through tax revenue, the State must therefore play a more central role in guaranteeing students receive a minimum level of education.
Yet the Levittown case also declared that, constitutionally, gross inequality in our schools is acceptable. In his decision, Judge Jones argued that, “recognizing the existence of the very real disparities of financial support as found by the lower courts, we nonetheless conclude that such disparities do not establish that there has been a violation of either Federal or State Constitution.”
Judge Jones argued that, as of 1982, the state was meeting its duty to deliver funding sufficient for a sound, basic education. Yet in the future, should a “gross and glaring inadequacy” in state funding be demonstrated, Jones argued that the courts could mandate a “higher priority” for education.
The 2003 Court of Appeals decision in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York did just this, finding gross and glaring inadequacies in New York’s public education to be in violation of Article XI of the Constitution and requiring that the state provide additional funding.
Clearly, however, the current language of the constitution does not ensure equal access to a sound, basic education. An $8,601 gap between students in wealthy school districts and those in poor school districts is plainly a “gross and glaring inadequacy” in need of state intervention.
Now is the time to invest in educating the next generation of New Yorkers by enacting a constitutional amendment to better provide for our youth. We must call on our legislators and Governor Cuomo to adequately fund schools in all districts, wealthy and poor, and renew our state’s promise of a sound, basic education and a path to prosperity for every student.
This is an additional topic which means we have only posted the key sentence along with the rest of the relevant provision(s) from the Constitution. This topic will grow with more detailed information as it more becomes relevant or as people like you or other leading voices step forward to help it develop.
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Section 1. The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated. (Formerly §1 of Art. 9. Renumbered by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938.)