In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the case of the Campaign for Fiscal Equality v. the State of New York, in which it was established that New York State owed at least $1.93 billion, plus inflation, to New York City schools. Advocates had been fighting for this ruling since the 1990s, when the state was accused of violating the constitutional rights of black, Latino, and low-income students as a result of this underfunding.
Ten years later, advocates are still fighting for proper funding for schools throughout the state. Although the CFE v. NYS case ruling applied only to New York City schools, the Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007 increased school funding statewide. This act was responsible for creating the foundation aid formula. This formula determines each district’s aid by taking student need and fundraising ability into account.
As a result, the New York State legislature paid districts in two $2.3 billion installments to help struggling schools throughout the state. But much of this funding — billions of dollars, in fact — was cut as a result of the economic recession. The Gap Elimination Adjustment divided a portion of the state’s deficit among the state’s districts in order to reduce deficit. The GEA forced school districts to be responsible for the state’s financial shortfall, and schools have suffered as a result. Fortunately, the New York State Senate passed a bill to eliminate the GEA earlier this year.
The economic recession that began nearly a decade ago continues to have lasting effects on schools throughout the entire nation. Studies have shown that at least 34 states provided less funding per student during the 2013-2014 school year than they did prior to the recession. The New York State Division of Budget maintains that New York spends $20,610 per pupil — more than than any other state and 87% above the national average. However, advocates maintain that the state still owes $1.63 billion to NYC public schools and $3.9 billion to other schools throughout the state.
Some advocacy groups also argue that the foundation aid formula is flawed. It actually hurts the most impoverished schools and causes them to miss out on necessary funding. Nearly half (48%) of students in New York State are designated as low-income. School districts like Utica, one of the poorest in the state, could benefit immensely from more funding. Despite this, Utica received less funding per student than a third of state school districts during the 2015-2016 school year. If Utica and other struggling school districts were given additional funding, experts say that the learning experiences of students would be significantly improved. These schools are in need of technological equipment and libraries, social programs, updated textbooks, and better compensation and training for educators.
The issue is not only financial. The lack of funding for struggling low-income schools is a racial one, too. As national director of the Alliance to Reclaim Schools Coalition, Keron Blair feels that “education justice in this moment is also racial justice.”
Most children attending public New York City schools are students of color. According to data from the New York City Department of Education, 40.5% of students are Latino, 27.1% are black, 15% are Asian, and 14.8% are white. Furthermore, 96% of black children and 95% of Latino kids in NYC attend majority low-income schools. Blair states that when it comes to good schools and quality education, “we’re seeing who has access to that and who doesn’t” and that it often involves racial lines.
Despite outcries from advocates, a recent court ruling showed that eight New York school districts were not proven to lack funding necessary for a “sound, basic education.” The ruling in that original CFE case found that students only in New York City, not elsewhere in the state, were missing educational components linked to shortcomings in funding. Plaintiffs who have cited the case elsewhere throughout the state have not received rulings in their favor. For the 2016-2017 school year, the state is dispensing the highest amount of funding to schools in history: $24.8 billion.