Midstate School Finance Consortium . 12/2003.

November 2003 Update

Here's an update on issues I thought would be of interest to you. The MSFC is playing a leading role in shaping the public policy debate over school funding reform. The landscape for reform of the State's dysfunctional school aid formula has never been better. This is an historic opportunity to ensure that all children and taxpayers of New York State are treated equitably. The unified voice of the MSFC is directed at immediate, comprehensive, statewide reform.

Brandon Gordon
Executive Director

CFE School Funding Decision: What Does It Really Mean?

On June 26, 2003, New York State's highest court, the Court of Appeals awarded a major victory to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. It found the state guilty of failing to provide an adequate education to millions of New York City schoolchildren.

In January of 2001, CFE scored its initial victory in Supreme Court, where the State's funding system was first declared "unconstitutional". That decision, appealed by the Governor, was later overturned by the Appellate Court. This final decision by the Court of Appeals ends CFE's eight years of litigation on this matter.

Included in the Court of Appeals decision was a ruling that New York's constitutional standard was a "meaningful high school education". However, the Court of Appeals differed with the lower court about the unconstitutionality of the school aid formula. It ruled the State must remedy the problem for New York City, while making it clear that providing a statewide remedy was an option, but not required. Furthermore, it required the State to:

Ascertain the actual cost of providing a sound basic education in New York City;

Ensure that every school has the resources necessary for providing the opportunity for a sound basic education; and

Ensure a system of accountability to measure whether the reforms actually provide the opportunity for a sound basic education.

The Court set a deadline of July 30, 2004, for implementing the necessary reforms. The case was remitted back to Judge Leland DeGrasse (who presided over CFE's initial victory in January of 2001) for any further follow-up proceedings that may be necessary.

CFE was quick to affirm its longstanding commitment to a statewide solution only. CFE will vigorously resist any effort by the Legislature to impose a remedy for just New York City.

The Midstate School Finance Consortium continues to be actively engaged in this effort. The Midstate Consortium's proposal provides a statewide remedy consistent with the guidelines originally laid down by Judge DeGrasse, and one that provides a fair and predictable funding system for every district, including New York City.

Our current effort is targeted at our upstate legislators, to impress upon them the need for a true statewide solution consistent with MSFC's guiding principles of a more equitable, predictable and understandable school aid formula.

Detailed information on the legal decision and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity are available on their website at www.cfequity.org

Working with the Governor's Commission on Education Reform

The MSFC is supportive of the Governor’s initiative to create the Commission on Education Reform. Some of the guidelines and objectives set for the Commission by Governor Pataki adhere closely to our core principles of equity and fairness, simplicity and predictability. In particular, the Governor’s action and inclusion of a number of representatives from Upstate signals that he too intends to seek a statewide solution, not a New York City-only one. We have high expectations for the Commission’s work and look forward to its final report expected in March 2004.

We have been contacted by the Commission seeking information about the MSFC and its proposal and have met with a number of Commission members to discuss the dysfunctional school aid formula, the CFE case, and our alternative funding proposal.

Our proposal has been well received by individual Commission members and we are preparing a formal presentation of the proposal to the entire Commission and its staff.

Testimony to the Assembly Education Committee

It’s with gratitude that we recognize the invitation by Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito (Utica) to participate in the Assembly’s Hearings on the Implications of the CFE Decision. Executive Director Brandon Gordon testified before the Committee in New York City on October 1, 2003.

Gordon stressed that:

"For decades, the controversy over public school funding has raged across our state. Over many years, children living in less wealthy areas, both urban and rural, downstate and upstate, have been shortchanged by a horribly inequitable funding formula. The Consortium urges the creation of a statewide solution – not a New York City-only solution and absolutely not a "shares"-based system like the one we have now."

He pointed out that "equitable school funding is not an upstate vs. downstate issue, a rich vs. poor problem, nor an urban vs. suburban dispute, but rather, quite simply, the right of every child in New York State to a sound basic education regardless of where they live."

Assemblyman Steven Sanders, Chairman of the Education Committee, described the MSFC as a "powerful influence on school aid reform" and actively encouraged the Consortium to continue its advocacy with members of the Assembly.

Following his testimony, Gordon was interviewed by the producer of "Inside Albany," an influential Public Television news program that airs statewide.

He pointed out that the MSFC has spent years working on a solution to the dysfunctional school aid formula and has succeeded in building a unified, diverse coalition committed to true statewide reform. With the MSFC proposal, the State has a framework readily available to address the comprehensive reform ordered by the Court.

Statewide Public Education and Engagement

The Consortium is actively engaged with the public and upstate Legislators in public discussion about the implications of the CFE decision.

Recently, MSFC has participated in Education Summits and Forums in Buffalo, Plattsburgh, Binghamton, Albany, Rochester, and Syracuse.

We have an active schedule of speaking engagements for the fall season, ensuring that the all-too-important issue of school funding reform is not lost in the shuffle of the upcoming state budget negotiations.

Collaboration with CFE, NYSSBA, and other Statewide Organizations

The MSFC is a partner with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. Both organizations strive for comprehensive, immediate, and statewide school funding reform.

MSFC serves on the Commission on Costing Out, established by CFE and NYSSBA as an advisory board for a statewide research study to determine the cost, district-by-district, of providing a sound basic education for every child.

We are active partners with the entire community of organizations committed to reforming the state’s funding system, including CFE, NYSSBA, NYSCOSS, and the Alliance for Quality Education.

We also serve in an advisory capacity to the Board of Regents on State Aid through the Education Finance Advisory Group.

For more information, please contact Brandon Gordon at bgordon@midstateonline.org or call him at 315-463-1904.

What You Can Do To Help

The outcome of the CFE decision is still uncertain and we are committed to playing an active role to ensure that Legislative response to the CFE decision is immediate, comprehensive, and statewide. Our voice for statewide reform can be amplified if your Board adopts a resolution endorsing the MSFC proposal and sends a copy to your Legislators. Please use this sample:

Midstate School Finance Consortium Resolution
[Your School] District

    WHEREAS, the State of New York has the responsibility to provide for the education of the youth of the state in a fair and equitable manner;

    WHEREAS, the present methodology and structure of the State Aid formula creates inequity and confusion;

    WHEREAS, the lack of predictability with State Aid allocations to school districts severely limits the ability of the Board of Education to plan for the future;

    WHEREAS, the principles of the MSFC proposal offer the best viable solution to the CFE lawsuit for the entire State of New York;

    BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, that the [your district] Board of Education endorses the methodology and structure for State Aid recommended by the Midstate School Finance Consortium’s proposal and seeks legislative support of this proposal.

Board of Education

Please send this resolution to your State Senator and Assembly representatives and a copy to the MSFC office.

The Midstate School Finance Consortium
6390 Fly Road
East Syracuse, NY 13057
(315) 463-1904, ext. 12
(315) 463-0065 fax