Campaign for Fiscal Equity
he Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) was a not-for-profit advocacy organization that sought to protect and promote the constitutional right to a sound basic education for all public school students in the State of New York. Under the leadership of Michael A. Rebell, the organization filed and won the landmark "CFE v. State of New York" lawsuit, which successfully argued that the state's school finance system under-funded New York City public schools and denied its students their constitutional right.
Funding and history of the organization
CFE was founded in 1993 by Robert Jackson, president of community school board 6, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan and future New York City Councilmember, and Michael A. Rebell, who was at that time the attorney for the community school district. They created a coalition of parents, community members, and education advocates who were concerned about the state's persistently inadequate funding of the New York public schools. They filed a constitutional challenge stating that the state was under-funding the public schools in New York City. Schools in New York City received enough funding to spend $10,469 per student while neighboring schools in New York suburbs received enough to fund $13,760 per student.
Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State
CFE filed its 13-year-long constitutional challenge to the New York State school funding system in 1993. The Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, ruled in 1995 that the New York State constitution requires that the state offer all children the opportunity for a "sound basic education," defined as a meaningful high school education that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation.
Actions and lawsuits 2001-2006
In 2001 State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse found that the current state school funding system was unconstitutional. Governor George Pataki appealed the decision, which was overturned in 2002 by the Appellate Division. CFE appealed to the Court of Appeals, which again found in favor of CFE in 2003. The Court of Appeals gave the State of New York until July 30, 2004 to comply with its order.
The state failed to meet this deadline, however, and the court appointed three referees who were given until November 30, 2004 to submit a compliance plan to Justice Leland DeGrasse of the State Supreme Court. Justice DeGrasse agreed with the referees' recommendations and in 2005 ruled that New York City schools needed an additional $5.6 billion in annual operating aid and an additional $9.2 billion over five years for building, renovating, and leasing facilities in order to provide students with their constitutional right to the opportunity to receive a sound basic education.
Governor Pataki appealed again to the Appellate Division. In March 2006 the Appellate Division upheld most of the Supreme Court's ruling, ordering the state to provide between $4.7 billion and $5.63 billion in annual operating aid and $9.2 billion in capital funds. On April 1, the legislature enacted capital funding that met the court's requirement, but it did not comply with the operational funding order.
In November 2006, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its 2003 decision, but citing the limited authority of the courts to direct the manner in which state money is spent, merely ordered the state to consider providing at least $2 billion more in annual operating aid to New York City's public schools.
Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007
During the 13-year long constitutional challenge, the CFE partnered with existing organizations across the state of New York. The group wanted to ensure that the new education finance system reform being put into place would successfully provide adequate funds and resources to students in public schools through the state, not just in New York City. Thousands of advocates, educators, school board members, business people, parents, students and community members worked to develop a statewide coalition for reform. Examples of campaigns used to raise awareness among New York citizens include: “Fair Funding, Better Schools” and the “100 Days to Educational Excellence”. The framework formed by the CFE were finally recognized in April 2007 when the New York State Legislature enacted the State Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007. Under this law are the following mandates: 1) commitment to raise annual state aid for education in 2010-11 by $7 billion; 2) foundation formula committed to distributing aid solely based on need; 3) new input/output accountability requirements; and 4) public participation requirements in developing, approving and enforcing the Contracts of Excellence (law’s primary accountability tool).
Contract for Excellence (C4E)
The Education Act is enforced to offer resources and aid to the highest-need students in the lowest-performing schools. The above-mentioned primary accountability tool, the Contract for Excellence, is an annual plan which provides school-by-school reporting. It is completed and submitted by the low performing school districts that receive the increased funding from the state. The purpose of the contract is to target education strategies such as reduced class size, teacher/principal quality, full day pre-K, high school/middle school restructuring and model programs for English Language Learners. The contracts were developed in 2007. In the 2007-08 school year, 55 school districts ( list of school districts in New York ) in the state of New York completed and submitted Contracts for Excellence. School improvements were seen as the numbers decreased to 38 districts in 2008-09 and 32 districts in 2009-10.
In June 2010, an Analysis of New York City’s 2009-10 Approved Contract for Excellence Allocations was released. The proposed funding and allocations approved by the State Education Department are compared. The report shows the decrease in spending on the “Class Size Reduction” by 11% as compared to the proposed funding, causing 62 fewer schools to receive allocations for more classes and lower teacher:pupil ratios. There was an increase in spending on “Time on Task” by 20%, giving these allocations to 82 additional schools. A small decrease in spending was seen in the “Teacher and Principal Quality”, decreasing by 1.4%. “Middle and High School Restructuring” also had a small decrease of 3% while “Full Day pre-K” had an 8% increase. The final category “Model Programs for English Language Learners” saw a 2% increase in funding. The sharp increase in funding under the “Time on Task” category gives funding for Summer School and dedicated instruction. While the “Class Size Reduction” category experienced the sharpest decrease, it still receives the largest amount of funding.
CFE work since 2007
After 2007, CFE worked to secure full funding and implementation of the massive school finance and accountability reforms, to ensure transparency and adequate information to measure academic progress, and secure meaningful public participation in the development of education programs and policies. The organization helped to develop the "Contract for Excellence," as well as other initiatives seeking to bring new funds and resources to the highest-needs students in the lowest-performing schools across New York State.
The New York State legislature passed a budget for the 2008-9 school year that fully funded the Education Act, promoted by the CFE year 2 budget. An increase of $643 million was given to New York City schools during this year. However, under the Contract for Excellence, schools were required to be in need of improvement for two years instead of the one previously required. This limited the number of schools offered aid. The 2009-10 school year maintained previous education spending levels, but saw no funding increase freezing the CFE. However, the cuts proposed by the Executive Budget were not experienced by the public schools. The New York State Legislature stated that the funding increase should resume again in the 2011-12 school year.
After the Lawsuit
Challenges arose after CFE won their 13-year lawsuit. According to Michael Rebell, who was executive director of CFE until 2005 and is now the director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, the money given to the New York City school district was not distributed effectively. The city dispersed the new funding widely and left it to school principals to decide how to use the funding allotted to their school. Principals were only required to report how they intended to use the funds not how they actually spent them. Rebell says:
"It's all over the place. There's no way anybody can keep track of what's going on with that money, whether it's made any difference, whether it's being used well".
The freezing of the distribution of CFE funds seen in the 2009-10 school year had detrimental effects on the group and its cause. Economic crisis and budget cuts caused public school funding to decrease, undoing the measures put in place by the CFE. It is estimated that the $1.3 billion cut in education aid by New York State Legislature brings the finance levels back to pre-lawsuit levels. Michael Rebell says that this budget cut will wipe out all work done by the CFE since 1993. He explains the dangers associate with public school funding cuts, specifically for high-need students in low-funded schools. Rebell says:
“That children's education rights cannot be temporarily suspended is not only a matter of law but also of common sense: A child who misses her opportunity to learn to read during the critical early school years forever falls behind. A teenager who drops out of high school rarely will return to complete his education. This is especially true for the low-income and minority-group students whose educational needs are the greatest and who tend to be the most detrimentally affected by service reductions.”
- The Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit Was the Best Hope for City Schools. It Failed" http://www.tc.edu/news.htm?articleID=6846.
- Campaign for Fiscal Equity Inc. v. State, 86 N.Y.2d 306 (1995), found Cornell law School Legal Information Institute. Accessed March 19, 2008.
- "Campaign for Fiscal Equity: Our History". http://www.cfequity.org/static.php?page=our_history&category=about_us
- "Campaign for Fiscal Equity: Contract for Excellence". http://www.cfequity.org/static.php?page=contract_for_excellence&category=our_work.
- Analysis of New York City’s 2009-2010 Approved Contract for Excellence Allocations". http://www.cfequity.org/C4E%20Proposed%20to%20Submitted%20Allocations%20FY10.pdf
- "Campaign for Fiscal Equity" http://www.cfequity.org/static.php?page=about_us
- "The Campaign for Fiscal Equity Lawsuit Was the Best Hope for City Schools. It Failed." Jan 21, 2009. http://www.tc.edu/news.htm?articleID=6846
- "Cuomo's school cuts are unconstitutional, says lead lawyer from Campaign for Fiscal Equity case". NY Daily News. March 17, 2011. http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-03-17/news/29172436_1_school-cuts-sound-basic-education-cuomo