TC's Rebell in Albany Paper: "Cuomo's Budget Infringes Students' Rights"
In an op-ed in the Albany Times-Union on Feb. 9, Michael Rebell, Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity and Professor of Law and Educational Practice at Teachers College, argues that, if enacted, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget for New York State would violate children’s right to “a sound, basic education.”
Rebell writes, “The Legislature should reject the governor's unconstitutional approach to school funding and live up to their constitutional obligations by providing sufficient funds to provide an opportunity for a sound basic education to all of our students.”
Rebell was co-counsel for plaintiffs in a successful lawsuit, Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York, in which the New York Court of Appeals held that state aid for education must be calibrated to student need and must be enough to provide all students the opportunity for a sound basic education.
Provide the proper funding for our
By Michael A. Rebell, Commentary
Published 5:41 pm, Monday, February 9, 2015
Albany Times Union
In the budget message he delivered last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed to increase state aid to education by $1.1 billion for the coming year — but only if the Legislature adopts a highly controversial package of education "reforms" that the governor also put on the table.
These "reforms" include changes to the charter school cap, tax credits for contributions to private schools and the teacher evaluation law. If these changes are not adopted, the governor will ask the Legislature to increase funding by only $377 million, an amount that will barely cover legally required increases in "expense-based aids" such as transportation and building aid, that mostly go to retroactive payments for services delivered and facilities built in the past.
In essence, if the governor does not get his desired education policy changes, New York state's students will receive virtually no increase in state aid and, given inflation and other mandatory cost increases, the existing level of educational services, which in many places is already highly inadequate, will be further reduced.
Making state funding for a sound basic education contingent on specific education policies, good or bad, infringes New York students' educational rights. The New York Court of Appealsheld in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York that state aid for education must be calibrated to student need and must be based on "the actual cost" of providing all students the opportunity for a sound basic education. If $1.1 billion is the budget increase that the governor has decided is needed to provide a sound basic education, then a threat to provide less than that amount is in direct contravention of the state constitution and of the governor's oath to uphold the constitution.
Even more problematic is that Cuomo has ignored the Court of Appeals' expectation that the state determine the actual cost of a sound basic education on the basis of an objective analysis of students' needs. There is no indication that the figures the governor has put forward are grounded in any such analysis. Instead, it is a budgetary and political calculation that ignores existing funding shortfalls and resource inadequacies and the additional costs of implementing the new requirements of such policies as Common Core standards, Response to Intervention, new pathways to high school graduation, and full-day universal prekindergarten.
The foundation aid formula that the Legislature adopted in 2007 in response to the CFE litigation, and based on an extensive cost study undertaken by the State Education Department, calls for an increase in state aid at this time of approximately $5.6 billion. This is the amount needed to provide students access to sufficient qualified teachers; reasonable class sizes; up-to-date textbooks and technology; services and supports for students who are not at grade level, students with disabilities, and English language learners; and all of the other elements of a sound basic education as defined by the courts and as calculated by the state itself in accordance with the foundation formula established in state statute.
The governor's neglect of the students' educational rights under the state constitution doesn't end with the inadequate funding increase. One of the so-called "reforms" to which the governor would hold state aid hostage is a plan that would provide tax credits of 75 percent of amounts up to $1 million for donations to "school improvement organizations, local education funds and educational scholarship organizations." At a time when our public schools are severely underfunded, it is simply shameful for the governor to call for siphoning public tax money off to private schools and other entities favored by wealthy individuals. Even though some of these funds can also be given to public schools, the notion that individual donors can choose the schools that will receive extra money, instead of determining through proper public procedures where available tax revenues should best be directed, also violates constitutional precepts.
The Legislature should reject the governor's unconstitutional approach to school funding and live up to their constitutional obligations by providing sufficient funds to provide an opportunity for a sound basic education to all of our students.
Michael A. Rebell is executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, and was co-counsel for plaintiffs in the CFE case.
Published Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015