Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the state’s impressive run of evading the fact that it owes New York City billions of dollars in educations funds.
As we reported last week, the state has demonstrated an uncanny ability to pretend like the N.Y. State Court of Appeals didn’t mandate that it pay the city more than $5 billion in additional education funding. In Tuesday’s budget speech, Cuomo actually had the nerve to pat himself and the state on the back for instituting increases in education funding.
A 4.4 percent increase in funding from fiscal year 2012-2013 to fiscal year 2013-2014 sounds pretty damn good–especially during these lean economic times.
But once again, Cuomo conveniently danced around the fact that in 2006 the New York State of Appeals decided, after more than a decade of litigation, that the state needed to provide a minimum of $1.9 billion-plus annually to New York City schools to ensure that every student has the opportunity to receive a “sound basic education.”
After two years of providing more than $2 billion in aid to the city, the passing of the Gap Elimination Adjustment Law and the implementation of the Personal Income Growth Index allowed the state to freeze and then cut aid to districts throughout the state, according to the Education Law Center.
“In 2011 we basically changed the way we fund Medicaid and education. They had built in 13 percent annual increases, which were unsustainable, the law replaced them with reality-based growth indices,” Cuomo said during Tuesday’s budget presentation. “Ideally, we would always like to fund everything, with all the money in the world, but we live in the real, and I think these increases and these investments in education, that we have made are notable and significant.”
To call the education funding increases “notable and significant” neglects the reality that the increase is based on last year’s funding figure, which is a far cry from what the city and other districts should be getting according to the 2006 court order.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which is now a part of the ELC, sent a letter to the state late November declaring its intent to sue the N.Y. State Education Department for the roughly $5.5 billion in funding that it has failed to pay under the Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007.
Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, supports the push to recoup full funding from the state, but says that the funding that the city actually has received has been misappropriated.
The court mandated that districts that receive additional funds agree to a Contract for Excellence each year. The contract is supposed to be constructed with the input of the public and utilize the state aid to eliminate barriers to adequate education such as classroom overcrowding, teacher and principal quality and limited learning time.
“The whole thing is out of whack completely…We’re getting $500 million a year through Contracts for Excellence,” Haimson tells the Voice. “[T]he state seems happy to hand over this money every year to the city without any kind of minimal oversight or minimal attempt to make them comply with law.”
The city’s mishandling of the funds, and the fact that class sizes have increased in public schools for the past five straight years, makes it more difficult to make an argument for more funding. It also gives Cuomo more ammo in his near complete push to force districts to implement teacher evaluation systems–an initiative the Cuomo says will actually allow the state to get some value in return for its investment.
Districts were pretty much coerced into implementing a teacher evaluation system after the state decided to tie funding increases with evaluation deals. New York City is one of six districts that has yet to come to an agreement on teacher evaluations. Last week the city missed out on $250 million in state funding, when it failed to reach a deal with the United Federation of Teachers.
If the state is willing to strictly enforce a teacher evaluation mandate, it should also be able to ensure that the city spends the Contract for Excellence money properly. Then maybe it could lower the hammer on itself, and ensure that it start adhering to the 2007 court mandate.