Wed, Jun 18, 2008
Low Grade For City Aid: Short Changes Weak Schools, Report Says
Yoav Gonen, New York Post
The city Department of Education's method of doling out $211 million in state aid wrongly benefits schools that are already succeeding, a new report charged.
Despite a state regulation that sets the ceiling for the funds going to high-performing schools at 25 percent, an analysis of the bulk of those distributions shows that 41 percent of the money has been assigned to successful schools, according to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.
Additionally, nearly every school is getting an allotment of the money - even though it was intended primarily for high-need schools and students, advocates said.
"The thing that was startling was that the money you can see on the school level is being distributed to 1,439 schools - virtually all schools," said Helaine Doran, deputy director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.
"We're worried that they're violating the regulations about how to direct the money."
Difficulties distributing the Contracts for Excellence money - which stem from a 14-year lawsuit that found the state had been shortchanging city schools - were compounded this year by a nearly $300 million city Education Department budget shortfall.
In addition to the restrictions on which schools and students can receive the money, the state funds must be spent on one of six methods for improving student achievement - including reducing class size or adding pre-kindergarten programs.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has held back $63 million of the state aid from schools for the 2008-09 school year, arguing that the state's restrictions would shortchange the higher-performing schools, such as Stuyvesant HS and Brooklyn Tech.
Klein has been seeking permission from Albany to distribute the money the way the city sees fit - but to this point, state legislators have given no indication that they're willing to grant the OK.
The report raises questions about whether the chancellor's appeal to Albany was in fact an effort to address budget shortfalls rather than an attempt at fairness, say education advocates.
"The Campaign for Fiscal Equity's analysis clearly shows the double-whammy being perpetuated on our students by the Department of Education," said LeRoy Barr, a staff director for the United Federation of Teachers.
"First, it is falling woefully short of properly funding low-performing schools and second, it is depriving kids who need the most help by playing a budgetary shell game instead of spending $63 million in targeted [state] funds as the governor and state legislature intended."
A department spokeswoman disputed the report's findings.
She said the city is in compliance if high- and low-performing schools are properly defined and if a bigger pool of state funds, $386 million, is examined.
If distributions from the bigger pool are reviewed, the city is allocating $83 million of $386 million to less needy schools - "well under the maximum allowable distribution of $96 million," she said.
Campaign for Fiscal Equity officials acknowledged that their formula approximated the city and state distributions - but they said that was because education officials wouldn't release critical data.
They also blasted education officials for not sharing more specific information on how the state money is being spent.
The city has been hosting public hearings on its proposal for distributing the Contracts for Excellence funds over the past two weeks - with the final forum being held tonight in Queens.
Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
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 stateâ€™s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >