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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Wed, Jan 23, 2008

Education Groups Frustrated With Governor's Plan

By Elizabeth Green, The New York Sun

Although Governor Spitzer is pushing for a record rise in public school aid this year, education groups say they are frustrated by his plan — and their objections could fuel a budget battle here with New York City schools at the center.

Mr. Spitzer's proposal would send $21 billion to schools statewide, a nearly $1.46 billion increase from last year and about as much as he had promised last year. New York City schools would receive $536 million of that increase.

The crucial factor is that the city under the governor's plan would receive $200 million less in a type of funding, known as foundation aid, that is important to education advocates and the city's teachers union because it restricts how Mayor Bloomberg can use it.

Last year, the funding system, which steered a greater percentage of new aid to New York City that in previous years, was hailed by the governor and education advocates as a simplified and more equitable way of dividing money among regions.

The new foundation formula was designed by Mr. Spitzer to put an end to a 14-year-long lawsuit led by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity that accused the state of under-funding the city school system.

The formula money is subject to "Contracts for Excellence," which require districts to spend the aid on a restricted menu of options, including class-size reduction and teacher training.
Now, the same advocates — including the group that led the lawsuit and the United Federation of Teachers — say Mr. Spitzer's new budget is a setback because it allocates money not subject to the contract.

Mr. Spitzer's director of operations, Paul Francis, told The New York Sun the governor's decision to give the city money not connected to the contract was the result of a compromise "between the desire of the city to have unrestricted funds and the desire of the advocacy community to have all the money subject to the Contracts for Excellence."

Part of the reason for the decrease in foundation aid has to do with the formula itself, which is supposed to direct more money to districts with disadvantaged demographics.
Rather than the political hockey game of years past, the formula tries to treat shares of state aid as a science, basing each district's aid on calculations of student neediness and resident income and property wealth.

New York City's share of the aid shrank in large measure due to a sharp increase in property values and incomes in the city between 2004 and 2005, the period used for the data collection.
The administration tweaked the formula, delivering more aid to the city but enough to cover the reduction — a choice that reflected both a willingness not to alter the formula by too much and to give the Bloomberg administration more unrestricted aid, sources said.

Some of the losses in foundation aid were recovered by giving the city $179 million in extra academic grants, only half of which falls under the contract, the Spitzer administration said.
A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Stuart Loeser, declined to comment on the governor's education budget.

Yesterday, the Democratic Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and the Republican Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, said they were not sold on Mr. Spitzer's spending plan.
Mr. Silver said the governor "basically keeps his commitment" to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, but said he was concerned about the cut in foundation aid.

Mr. Bruno criticized the governor for "distorting" the distribution of school aid and not sending enough money to Long Island.

Perhaps to offset the blow of the Contracts for Excellence rejiggering, Mr. Spitzer left out of his budget a $1,000-per-student private school tuition tax deduction that he had told religious leaders would be included. The city's teachers union and Mr. Silver are opposed to the deduction.

A spokesman for a faith coalition that supports the tax break, Michael Tobman, said Mr. Spitzer violated a "personal pledge."


Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >