|New York City Chancellor Carmen Farina|
The Central Crisis in New York Education
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s forthcoming State of the State address is expected to focus on what can be done to improve public education across the state.If he is serious about the issue, he will have to move beyond peripheral concerns and political score-settling with the state teachers’ union, which did not support his re-election, and go to the heart of the matter. And that means confronting and proposing remedies for the racial and economic segregation that has gripped the state’s schools, as well as the inequality in school funding that prevents many poor districts from lifting their children up to state standards.
These shameful inequities were fully brought to light in 2006, when the state’s highest court ruled in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New Yorkthat the state had not met its constitutional responsibility to ensure adequate school funding and in particular had shortchanged New York City.
A year later, the Legislature and Gov. Eliot Spitzer adopted a new formula that promised more help for poor districts and eventually $7 billion per year in added funding. That promise evaporated in the recession, spawning two lawsuits aimed at forcing the state to honor it.A lawsuit by a group called New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights estimates that, despite increases in recent years, the state is still about $5.6 billion a year short of its commitment under that formula.
A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of students in several small cities in the state, including Jamestown, Port Jervis, Mount Vernon and Newburgh. It says that per pupil funding in the cities, which have an average 72 percent student poverty rate, is $2,500 to $6,300 less than called for in the 2007 formula, making it impossible to provide the instruction other services needed to meet the State Constitution’s definition of a “sound basic education.”These communities and others like them are further disadvantaged by having low property values and by a statewide cap enacted in 2011 that limits what money they are able to raise through property taxes. And last year the New York State United Teachers union said that the cap had been particularly harmful to poorer districts.
These inequalities are compounded by the fact that New York State, which regards itself as a bastion of liberalism, has the most racially and economically segregated schools in the nation. A scathing 2014 study of this problem by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, charged that New York had essentially given up on this problem. It said, “The children who most depend on the public schools for any chance in life are concentrated in schools struggling with all the dimensions of family and neighborhood poverty and isolation.”The Cuomo administration seemed not to acknowledge these issues in a letter last month to the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents and the commissioner of education in which it promised “an aggressive legislative package” to improve education in the state. Among the dozen issues it said it wanted to address were strengthening the teacher evaluation system, improving the process for removing low-performing teachers and improving teacher training.
The regents agreed that these were legitimate issues needing attention. But they also noted that these reforms were unlikely to improve the schools unless they were paired with new investments along the lines of the $2 billion in extra spending that the regents had recommended earlier. No less pointedly, they urged Mr. Cuomo to address the “deeply disturbing inequalities in resources” that exist between poor and wealthy districts, as well as the destructive pattern of segregation. Mr. Cuomo must take on both of these central issues.