Funding for public schools is provided by the Federal, State and local governments. The Federal government provides discretionary money, which is allocated through the appropriations process annually. It also provides Title I funding based on economic need for schools that meet a benchmark percentage of children who qualify for free/reduced price lunch. The Federal government also provides Individuals with Disabilities Education Act special education funding based on documented student need.
The State of New York uses tax-levy funds from income and property taxes. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) Web site is a terrific resource. The main “roadblock” [to the redistribution of school funding mandated by the state supreme court] was the Pataki administration’s resistance to the judicial mandate, which necessitated the appointment of court referees in 2004 due to the State’s non-compliance.
In November 2007, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer announced a new funding formula in compliance with the CFE case, referred to as Contracts for Excellence (C4E). School districts are now required to submit a Contract for Excellence specifying how the district will spend its state aid. A significant portion of that increase must be spent on one or more reforms including smaller class sizes, longer school days or school years, middle school and high school restructuring, and increased early learning through full day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. A smaller portion of new funding could be targeted toward research-based experimental programs. That first year, the Contracts for Excellence detailed how districts would spend 428 million dollars, of which 257.9 million dollars was directed to New York City.
The local contribution to public schools is based primarily on local property tax. Municipalities with high priced real estate have the ability to raise substantially greater funds from that base than districts with lower property values. This contributes greatly to funding disparities. Other factors contribute to that disparity such as teacher salary. Higher teacher starting pay and lower teacher turnover raises the per pupil cost of education, and suburban school districts tend toward both of those factors.
One other CFE roadblock that bears mentioning is the current economic downturn in the State of New York. This year, most education cuts were restored through Federal Stimulus funding.
Since 1998, the State of New York had put into place several reform initiatives and spending on education has increased dramatically. My office recently issued a report on education funding that pertains to school governance of the New York City schools. There have been important investments in early grade class size reduction, the expansion of pre-Kindergarten programs, increased professional development and teacher salary and other programs since 1998. I believe such investments put education on the right path. Early education investments are key and my report demonstrates that they pay off as demonstrated by improved student performance on State exams, especially among students entering pre-Kindergarten at the time of its expansion.
Finally, I am in agreement with the New York State Court of Appeals definition of a sound basic education “a meaningful high school education.”
Assembly Member Jim Brennan