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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Mon, Oct 22, 2007

CFE And AQE Praise State Board Of Regents Call For $1.8 Billion Increase In Foundation School Aid

Organizations also urge Regents to stregthen Contract For Excellence regulations

(Albany, NY) The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. (CFE) and the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) today praised the New York State Board of Regents for calling for a $1.8 billion increase in foundation aid in the 2008 state budget. The Regents announced their school aid proposal at an 11:45 AM press conference in Albany today.

One significant difference between the formulation of the Regents proposal and the structure of school aid under this year’s adopted budget is that the Regents did not include any extra formulas to provide pre-set numeric shares of funding to specific regions of the state. In the 2007 budget deal the State Senate Majority included $121 million in added aid, distributed primarily to wealthy Long Island school districts.

“We applaud the Regents call for $1.8 billion in new foundation aid this year,” said Geri Palast, Executive Director, Campaign for Fiscal Equity. “Our children need an excellent education today. Increasing and accelerating the foundation aid which is distributed on the basis of need, puts more dollars to work serving the neediest students in low performing schools. The Regents are clearly setting the bar at delivering educational excellence by calling for aid over and above what the 2007 legislative reforms enacted.”

““While the 2007 school aid formula reform set a floor for increased foundation aid the Regents are demanding that our state do even more in order to move rapidly to educational excellence,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. “It is inconceivable that the state would increase aid this year by anything less than the 2007 formula calls for and the Regents are clearly saying we need to do more and do it more quickly. What is also refreshing about the Regents proposal is that they do not include any of the politically-motivated pork barrel spending that the State Senate Majority added outside the school aid formula this year.”

CFE and AQE also called on the Regents to strengthen regulations governing the Contract for Excellence by incorporating their demands into the final regulations. The Regents will be discussing and voting on these regulations in meetings today and tomorrow. The organizations’ top priorities for the regulations include ensuring that Contract for Excellence funds serve the highest needs students in the lowest performing schools, that there are specific rules to ensure transparency and meaningful public participation, and that districts provide detailed program information on how the money is being spent with benchmarks and data to measure student achievement.

The current temporary rules which determine the guidelines for distributing millions of new dollars to the state’s lowest performing schools will be extended today for the sixth consecutive month. These regulations are expected to become final in December.

“The emergency regulations governing the Contracts for Excellence require greater clarity, specificity and standardization”, said Geri D. Palast, Executive Director of CFE. “Permanent regulations must ensure that high needs students in low performing schools are served, that planning and accountability documents are accessible and transparent to the public, that the process for participation and complaints is clear, and that districts provide detailed program information on how the money is being spent with benchmarks and data to measure student achievement. The Regents must ensure that the final regulations incorporate these changes, or the affected school districts will lack sufficient guidance and accountability to make this initiative a success.”

CFE/AQE’s proposed changes to the Contract for Excellence regulations include:

• The phrase “predominately serve the neediest” must clearly be defined as 75% or more of the funds must be spent on the highest needs students in the lowest performing schools;
• There should be a clear and transparent standardized form for all Contracts statewide;
• Specific procedures and deadlines for public participation on Contract development and review, by each affected district. The timing needs of this process must be coordinated with the school budget processes;
• A specific complaint process with a standardized form for the public to raise concerns about a district’s failure to comply with the Contracts;
• The definition of the term “neediest” (as applied to eligible students and schools) must clearly include performance as a factor;
• Affected districts must provide specific program information on how the money is being allocated and spent, as well as include clear benchmarks and data to measure student performance.

"Parents in high need school districts demand real accountability to go along with the record new funding for our schools,” AQE Executive Director Billy Easton said. Under the law, school districts must make certain that parents have a real voice in shaping educational policy. Who would be better at holding schools accountable than parents? So far the Board of Regents has not put in place regulations to enforce this and other key parts of the law that requires districts to enter into Contracts for Excellence. We have been calling for the Regents to fix the regulations for the past six months. It is critical that the Regents get the job done and get it done right. Our school children are depending upon the Regents to take action to ensure real accountability."

Adopted last April to jump-start the implementation of the Contracts for Excellence, the accountability initiative enacted as part of the 2007-2008 State Education Budget and Reform Act, the temporary regulations (which the Regents have repeatedly extended) provided basic instructions for the 56 affected school districts statewide to develop and submit contracts.

The Act, designed to address the court order in the CFE litigation, allocated a historic increase in school funding (more than $7 billion statewide over the next four years), created a new distribution formula based on need, and established new accountability and transparency measures in school finance, notably the Contract for Excellence. This initiative consists of plans or “contracts” that low performing school districts that receive a 10% or greater increase in education funding must develop detailing where the money will go, how it will be spent, and what it will accomplish.

Fifty-six districts submitted contracts last July, but the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) has held approvals until districts provide additional Contract information. Adoption of the permanent regulations is expected during the Regents next meeting, scheduled for December 13-14.

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 >