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Campaign for Fiscal Equity
 

Mon, Jul 9, 2007

CFE Calls For NYC Department Of Education To Fix Inadequacies In Proposed Citywide Contract For Excellence

In The First NYC Contract For Excellence Public Hearing, CFE Identifies Major Flaws in The Plan

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. (CFE), the leading non profit organization protecting and promoting the constitutional right to a sound basic education in New York, today called on the New York City Department of Education (NYCDoE) to fix the inadequacies found in its proposed citywide Contract for Excellence.

In testimony presented during the first in a series of public hearings scheduled this week to discuss how the proposed contract will impact schools citywide, Geri Palast, Executive Director of CFE, reiterated that the increased education budget resulting from the landmark CFE litigation must be spent on the students with the highest educational needs first. New state law requires that at least $258 million of new funds, subject to a Contract for Excellence, must be invested in strategies that work, with strong accountability and public participation, she highlighted.

"The proposed citywide contract raises more questions than it answers," Palast said. "It provides broad-brush overarching policy proposals. It lacks the necessary specificity and transparency to allow the public to understand where and how the money will be spent."

Palast stated that the 32 community school districts plans are summarized on an expenditure chart and do not outline baseline data or specify targets, schools, programs and students served in all 5 key areas that the contracts must cover.class size reduction, full day pre-k, more time on task, middle and high school restructuring and teacher and principal quality. This information is critical for parents, education advocates and taxpayers to follow the money into the schools, measure success and challenge results when the contract goals are not accomplished, among other circumstances.

"After 14 years of litigation we will finally get the resources to undo the devastating education funding inadequacies of the past. We have come too far to settle for anything less than total accountability and transparency," Palast added.

In her testimony, Palast pointed the following inadequacies in the proposed citywide contract, which must be addressed immediately:

1. CFE funds must serve the neediest students: NYCDoE has proposed sending $133 million through Fair Student Funding (FSF) to 693 schools. While a large portion of the funds are going to needy students and low performing schools, there are a substantial number of schools receiving funds that do not fit this profile. There are also needy students and low performing schools not included in this list. The information provided regarding the funding of underperforming schools is confusing, and raises concerns about prioritizing the neediest. For example, we are informed that 41% of the funds are going to underperforming SINI/SRAP and SURR schools. We are then told that 60 underperforming schools are to be closed. We are also informed that 20 SINI/SRAP schools are to be closed, and there is a plan to build 40 new schools to replace these and other failing schools. It is not clear how all these figures relate. We need a clear explanation on how the neediest are served with simple school based accounting.

2. Meaningful 5-year Class Size Reduction Plan. NYCDoE states that it will spend $106 million on class size reduction, $66 million as part of FSF. Goals built on system-wide averages and downward trends along with coaching don't tell parents and the public how class size will actually be reduced. There are no specifics regarding particular targets in particular schools. We need specific school and class baseline data so that we can measure progress. We want to partner with the Department in determining how that baseline should be determined. We agree that the change in policy regarding enrollment targets is a positive step, and that targeting the neediest high schools for special attention is moving in the right direction. This latter also requires more specificity. We also want to ensure that sufficient provision is made of full day pre-k. Finally, the link to the capital plan, the building of new schools and the need for seats to reduce class size at all grade levels must be articulated and quantified.

3. Middle Schools are the weakest link and must be addressed. Less than half of NYC 8th graders can read, write and do math at the state standard. In East Brooklyn, Harlem and the South Bronx, fewer than 1 in 4 students can read and write on state standard. There is a 45 point achievement gap based on income. In middle schools that serve the most students in poverty, only 29% of students meet state standards in reading and writing, compared to 74% of students in schools that serve the highest-income students. More than half of the 50 lowest-performing middle grade schools are receiving NO new Fair Student Funding money. The 50 lowest-performing middle grade schools are receiving, on average, only $66,000 in new Fair Student Funding money. In April, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein committed to make a good faith effort to implement the soon to be released NYC Council Middle School plan in at least 50 schools. The NYCDoE refers to middle and high school restructuring efforts outside the Contract. We want assurance that the task force plan will be implemented with CFE funds or a specific commitment of additional funds.

4. More Time on Task. The proposal to use CFE funds for both assessment and programs to increase personalization and more time on task requires further specificity on program and baseline data as well. It appears that much of this money is allocated for testing and training on testing rather than more time in the class room.

5. Full Day Pre-K. Research leaves no doubt that full day pre-k leads to improved outcomes, and is beneficial for both students and parents. NYC has trouble filling half day slots. The Mayor and the Chancellor have repeatedly stated that full-day pre-k is a priority. We appreciate their efforts in taking steps with the new formula and other funds. We seek a long-term strategy to fund full day pre-k as part of the Contract.

6. Accountability on the Total New Investment. The CFE decision resulted in over $1 billion new dollars for NYCDoE from combined state and city resources this year. We want NYCDoE to account for how the total new infusion of dollars satisfies the constitutional purpose.

7. Public Participation. We are gratified that NYCDoE is holding public hearings in 5 boroughs. However we are concerned that the proposed plan was released at close of business Thursday, July 5, for hearings running July 9-12, to be submitted to the State on July 15. In this first year, we are operating under a short timeframe, but this process does not allow for real deliberation on issues of great import and complexity.

Palast emphasized that CFE will submit further questions for the record, and called on the department to provide more detailed explanations down to the school level. The organization will also seek further time for review of the proposed contract in the approval process with the state, she said.

The Contracts for Excellence are plans or "contracts" that high needs school districts that receive a 15% increase or $10 million of new foundation aid must develop, saying where the money will go, how it will be spent and what it will accomplish. Created by Governor Eliot Spitzer to secure accountability and transparency in the distribution of the historic education funding increase granted by the 2007-2008 Education Budget and Reform Act, the contracts (which NYCDoE must develop for all 32 NYC Community School Districts in addition to a citywide contract) provide parents and taxpayers with the facts on how districts propose to distribute and use the new funds in five key areas: reducing class size, more time on task, improving teacher and principal quality, restructuring middle and high schools, and establishing full day pre-K.

Enacted last April as a result of final ruling in the CFE lawsuit, the 2007-2008 Education Budget and Reform Act provides a record $1.76 billion (over $700 million for New York City) increase in funding next year and ushers in a new "Foundation Aid" formula that distributes money based on need. The new school aid plan, which includes a commitment of $7 billion ($3.2 billion for New York City) in new funding ($5.5 billion in foundation aid) over the next four years and was born out of the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, is a resounding victory for New York's 2.8 million schoolchildren.

Only foundation aid is subject to the Contract for Excellence. For the 2007-2008 school year, New York City received $469,752,980 in foundation aid. After subtracting for inflation and other allowable costs, approximately $258 million are subject to the Contract for Excellence: $228 million must be invested in new and expanded programs in the five contract areas; while $30 million may be spent in the first year only on the maintenance of effort of existing programs in these areas.

The proposed contract was posted for public review on NYDoE's website (http://schools.nyc.gov) last Thursday, July 5th. Oral comments can be presented at public hearings scheduled for July 9-12th in all boroughs, while written comments will be accepted through July 14, 2007 at: contractsforexcellence@schools.nyc.gov. Upon incorporating public input, DOE must submit the proposed contracts to the New York State Education Department (SED) by July 15th, 2007.

Tonight's public hearing was held at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, in Concourse Village. Additional public hearings are scheduled tomorrow in Brooklyn, Wednesday in Manhattan and Staten Island, and Thursday in Queens. CFE renewed its call for parents and education advocates to attend.

For more information about the 2007-2008 Education Budget and Reform Act, the proposed citywide Contract for Excellence, hearings schedule, and a copy of "Know Your Rights Handbook: A Guide to the 2007-2008 Education Budget and Reform Act and What It Means for Your District," the public can call (212) 867-8455 or visit 216.92.199.229.


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 >