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Making the CFE Money Matter in NYC Schools

Unhappy with New York City’s efforts to lay out a sound plan for how they will spend the hard-fought CFE funds this year, Michael Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity, went before the New York City Council and submitted a letter to the State Education Department and the Regents to criticize the NYC Department of Education’s Contract for Excellence (C4E).

In its plan, submitted this month to the State Education Department, the Chancellor outlines the use of the $258 million in additional funding subject to C4E reporting (the city’s total funding increase is over $1 billion this year). The C4E funds are supposed to go towards helping the neediest students and must only be used to reduce class size, increase time on task, improve teacher and principal quality, restructure middle schools and high schools, or increase seats for full day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

Yet, the plan lacks cohesion and a developed vision for city schools, according to Rebell. “The City’s proposal is largely a grab bag of miscellaneous spending preferences of hundreds of principals, rather than a serious plan to confront the needs of the city’s neediest students.”

As Rebell explains in a letter to Deputy Commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier:

Instead of undertaking a thorough analysis of program effectiveness in relation to specific student needs, the City blatantly acknowledges that the bulk of this money was distributed to hundreds of schools through its “fair funding formula” and the principals were asked to propose how they would spend the extra money in the five designated priority areas. The City’s Department of Education then aggregated the individual school spending choices to determine how $138 million of the $258 million in total CFE funds would be spent.

Among the most glaring failures of the plan is the clear fact that it fails to target or prioritize schools in most need of additional funding. “There is no indication of any attempt to seriously determine the relative resource needs of schools or districts, nor does the City require schools to provide data to justify Contract for Excellence spending decisions,” says Rebell.

Rebell’s other criticisms:

  • The City’s plans for spending Contract for Excellence funds are not based on a multiyear plan to bring all of its schools into constitutional compliance.
  • The City does not provide sufficient “specifics” about proposed initiatives to justify their adoption, assess their merits, understand their implementation, or evaluate their results.

The Chancellor recently pledged to submit substantial additional documentation to the State Education Department by August 15, 2007. Although the State Education Department is scheduled to approve the Contracts for Excellence plans by August 15, 2007, Rebell has asked SED not to approve the City’s proposal until the new information has been received and it has been thoroughly analyzed. Moreover, if SED ultimately does approve some or all of the city’s plan, that approval should be contingent on an explicit requirement that for school year 2008-2009, when the City will have ample time to comply with C4E requirement , a meaningful planning process must be undertaken and a fully effective and  coherent plan developed.

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