Michael A. Rebell. Newsday. 6/28/2002.


Although Gov. George Pataki has called the state's education-funding formula "a dinosaur," this week he has shown that the standards he supports for our children are downright prehistoric. The governor said he was "pleased" with an appeals court decision that called a high school education "aspirational" and derisively ruled that the state has no obligation to prepare our students for anything more than menial minimum-wage jobs.

What century is the governor living in?

This week's 4-1 decision by the five- judge Appellate Division, if ultimately upheld by the state's highest court, would have distressing ramifications for our children. While it may have been possible 100 years ago for a student to get a decent job with less than a high school education, those days have long since past.

Despite stating this week that all children in New York State deserve a "world class education," the governor applauded the appellate court decision in Campaign for Fiscal Equity vs. State of New York that accepted a 19th-century standard of public education as the standard for our children. In overturning Justice Leland DeGrasse's landmark trial court ruling in favor of the CFE, the court mocks the resources schools must have to prepare students to be productive, engaged citizens in the 21st century.

What were these standards that both the appellate court and the governor agree are "overreaching," "improper" and that go "too far?" Qualified teachers and principals. Appropriate class sizes. Adequate school buildings. Up-to-date textbooks, technology and libraries. A safe, orderly school environment.

This week's ruling, if upheld by the Court of Appeals, would require schools to provide none of the above. In fact, under the appellate court's interpretation of the state constitution, the state could shut down every public high school across New York, and four judges and our governor would continue to argue that what's left is all we owe our children.

The governor has repeatedly blamed others for the woeful condition of schools in New York City and other high-needs districts in the state. By doing this, he is offering our children a harsh lesson in hypocrisy. While the gross disparities between New York's wealthiest and poorest children do indeed predate this governor, his inaction in reforming the funding system is no one's fault but his own.

The truth speaks much louder than empty promises. Gov. Pataki has had eight years to throw out the school-funding system. As recently as Wednesday, the governor promised "a school-aid formula that is simple and predictable and not virtually incomprehensible to parents and educators." Yet Justice DeGrasse ordered just that last winter, when he found that city schools were due hundreds of millions of dollars in additional aid from the state and handed the governor and state Legislature a common-sense framework for fixing the education system. Instead, the governor chose to appeal the ruling and has taken no steps to throw out the formula.

Ironically, the governor appealed DeGrasse's ruling at about the same time that he endorsed the Regents' new standards for high school graduation. These standards include those skills that prepare all students to be educated voters and jurors as well as productive citizens in our high-tech economy. But, while the state expects all students to pass the science Regents, the court found it acceptable that only a fraction of the city's schools have science labs. While the state expects all students to pass the English Regents, the court found no problem with severely outdated, or even nonexistent, libraries in our poorest schools.

Ample research has proved that our children are capable of learning at high standards. With a sitting president who has decried the "soft bigotry of low expectations," few New Yorkers could come up with expectations any lower than those supported by the court and Gov. Pataki.

Dinosaurs are extinct - and so is our state's fossilized funding formula. Let's bury this one and stop delaying reforms that will make New York's public school system the best in the nation.