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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Tue, May 6, 2008

Failing to Plan = Plan for Failure

Department of Education Spending of New Contract Dollars Requires Strong Citywide Plan

(New York, NY) Parents, teachers, and education advocates, joined by City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson today called on Chancellor Joel Klein to work together with the public to develop a Contract for Excellence plan that strategically invests $360 million of the $622 million in new state education foundation aid spending in initiatives that address middle school improvements, teaching and serving English language learners, and class size reduction prioritizing low performing schools.

In a letter to be delivered to the Chancellor, the groups will urge the Chancellor to hold back these “leverage” dollars from the school level distribution anticipated this week and engage the public in a strategic planning process to develop a strategic Contract for Excellence that will ensure that these priorities are addressed through systematic programs that will achieve measurable results. This Contract can provide program structure, guidance, incentives, technical assistance, and all the direction necessary to achieve success.

“Allocating funds to schools without a plan is putting the cart before the horse,” stated City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson.

The Contract for Excellence, developed and named for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), is designed to ensure that the long-awaited funds are invested for high impact in six strategic areas proven to improve academic achievement of high need students in low performing schools and ensure that every public school child receives the opportunity for a sound basic education.

“After fifteen years of CFE litigation, legislation, and a successful effort restoring state budget cuts to New York City, advocates worked with the State to ensure strategic investment of these long awaited funds. Over the past year, initiatives on middle school improvement, teaching and services for English language learners, and class size reduction prioritizing low performing schools have been developed and shared with the DOE. It is critical that the DOE join together with the public and implement a plan that will achieve academic excellence for New York City’s public school students,” said Geri D. Palast, Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

The Contract is intended to provide a strategic plan that, with public input and comment, shapes priorities and investments. The law calls for a Contract development process to determine the use of the funds at both the citywide and Community School District levels in consultation with parents, teachers, advocates, and education experts. Each Community School District plan must be reviewed by its Community Education Council.

“New York City public schools certainly need the resources they are getting from the state, but they won’t get the full benefit unless the resources are used wisely and efficiently to get the most bang for the buck, and that requires planning. It’s not enough to simply throw money at a problem and hope for the best. The Department of Education, which has demonstrated a penchant for waste and mismanagement, should collaborate with teachers, parents and other education advocates to agree on spending priorities to focus resources on our system’s most urgent needs such as reducing class size, building more schools, improving middle school instruction and adding teachers and services for English language learners,” stated Vice President Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers.

In addition, the State requires that the Department of Education hold borough-wide public hearings in each borough to solicit public input on the Contract initiatives and school allocations. “The middle grade crisis is so severe that DOE should not distribute the Contract for Excellence money to the schools before there is a plan in place, and until public hearings are held,” said Parent Leader Lenore Brown of the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice.

“DOE needs to put the brakes on spending these funds and first put together a real plan for tackling the city’s English Language Learner dropout crisis,” said Jose Davila, Director of State Government Affairs for the New York Immigration Coalition. “Chancellor Klein must first work with communities to develop a strong citywide Contract for Excellence plan that helps English language learner students and other at-risk youth succeed.”

State funds under the Contract must be used for the following six areas: class size reduction, teacher and principal quality, programs for English language learners, increased time on task, pre-kindergarten, and middle and high school restructuring. “The Contract for Excellence was designed by the State to ensure that the New York City Department of Education and other school districts work with the public to make a plan for how to implement best practices in order to improve the quality of education. The approach used by the DOE to distribute Contract funds prior to plan development is backwards. Rather than shaping strategic initiatives like class size reduction, middle school reform and programming for English language learners first and then distributing funds to schools to implement these reforms, DOE is allocating funds to schools and hoping that that individual schools will invest these funds wisely. It is not the best policy," explained Jaime Estades Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education.

Parents and advocates are ready to roll up their sleeves and work with the DOE to develop these initiatives with dispatch to ensure that money will get to the schools without delay so planning and hiring can get underway. Front-end planning for this limited pot of money to shape a strong citywide Contract for Excellence plan that incorporates public input, provides stronger guidance on how to spend the funds, and prioritizes significant funds for improving middle schools, reducing class size and teaching English language learners will bring long-term benefits to all involved. Last year, parents and advocates expressed both programmatic and process concerns regarding the City’s Contract, and final state approval was delayed until late in the year. We can do it differently this year, and do it well. By bypassing the community input process and proceeding to give out the money without a plan, the DOE is missing an opportunity to have a real impact on critical needs for our city’s students.

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 >