Some New Yorkers seemed downright unhappy that the city's troubled school system could get billions of dollars in additional funding. "This is about an
attempt by special interest groups to take more money
from the private sector and give it to the public
sector," said Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "I see nothing good coming out of
Others at a recent Manhattan Institute
discussion on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity
case shared his view, grumbling about lazy teachers
and dopey school bureaucrats. "However
much money they get, they're only going to waste it,"
a lawyer said over a pre-lunch glass of wine.
Most New Yorkers, though, were surely pleased with Judge Leland DeGrasse's order,
issued on Valentines Day, to increase funding for the
city Department of Education.
But before holding a ticker tape parade, consider what happened in New Jersey. It took more than
20 years before poorer school districts in the Garden
State ever saw any money from a lawsuit, filed in the
1980s, challenging education funding there. At least one
politician, New Jersey Governor Jim Florio, lost his
job at least partly because of his efforts to bring
money to the state's neediest districts. And, despite
some successes, many of those districts remain
Now New York seems to be following its neighbor's
example of long delays, tortured politics and uncertain outcomes.
The latest gyrations began on February 14 when
DeGrasse issued a court order (in
pdf format) that would require that:
- New York City schools, which now have a budget of
about $12.6 billion, receive an additional $5.7
billion a year in operating funds, phased in over the
next four years;
- The city schools get more than $9 billion in
additional funding for capital projects -- new schools,
maintaining existing ones, purchasing new technology
and so on.
- The state either appeals the ruling within 30 days or
implement it within 90 days.
Governor George Pataki quickly took the final option,
saying that the legislature and the governor, not a
judge, should determine which schools get how much
money. "It's a separation of powers issue," he told
DeGrasse's ruling, though, stems from the failure of
elected officials to take on the problem. In 2003, the
Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, upheld
DeGrasse's 2001 ruling
that the state's method of funding education deprives
city students of their constitutional right to a
"sound basic education." Albany then had a year to
figure out how much money the city needed and where it
should come from. When the state's political leaders
failed to do that -- and seemed nowhere near any kind
of agreement -- DeGrasse appointed a
three-member panel to help him determine how the state
could comply with his ruling. The judge's order
essentially reflects the recommendations of that panel.
Like the referees, DeGrasse does not say how much of
the additional funding would come from the state and
how much from the city. DeGrasse notes that the city
"urges this court to prohibit the state from requiring
the city to pay any portion of the additional $5.63
billion." But he declined to do this, saying the Court
of Appeals had determined "that it is for the
legislature to determine how school funding should be
distributed between city and state."
The disagreement over who should pay how much has been
a major stumbling block to any settlement of the case,
exacerbated by the fact that both the state and city
already face multi-billion dollar deficits. Pataki has
reportedly said he wants the city to pay 40 percent of
any increase. The
city wants to pay zero. City Corporation Counsel
Michael Cardozo has gone so far as to say that if the
city had to chip in, it would reject any of the additional
state funds. "If we have to pay any portion of this,
no thanks," Cardozo, said at a State Supreme Court
hearing in January. "We simply cannot do it. It will
hurt our children."
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity still hopes it can
negotiate a settlement that would include not just New
York City, but all school districts in the state.
Although previous efforts at negotiation have failed,
Michael Rebell of the campaign said perhaps DeGrasse's
order would help. "I"m hoping that will change the
dynamic a bit," he told Associated Press.
But some, such as Steven Sanders,
chair of the Assembly Education Committee, wonder
whether the governor simply wants to delay
implementation of the ruling, for as long as possible
" perhaps until he leaves office, whenever that might
be. That would spare him the task of determining how
to pay for the settlement.
In this go round, Pataki cannot appeal the court's
ruling that city students are deprived of their right
to a sound, basic education. But he can challenge the
court's ruling on how much money the Department of
needs to correct that.
Pataki's decision to appeal brought quick criticism
from people involved in the case and Democrats. "The
governor now must no longer delay and not continue his
appeals, thus ensuring children remain without the
resources that have been clearly determined they need
to succeed," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said in a
And the Alliance for Quality Education launched a
campaign called www.OurKidsCantWait.org to try to get
Pataki and the legislature to come up with the money.
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who hailed the judge's
ruling, came in for criticism as well.
While faulting Pataki, InsideSchools.org, a web site on New York City
schools published by Advocates for Children, said Bloomberg's refusal
to spend any of the city's money is "particularly
galling because he campaigned as the man who would fix
the city's schools." The article
by Clara Hemphill continues, "Bloomberg's insistence
that he won't put a nickel more into the city's
schools makes it almost impossible for negotiations
toward a court settlement to proceed. Sure the city
has budget problems, but helping the city's school
children is more important than building a stadium on
the West Side . . . or giving property owners a tax
In an interview with the New York Sun, mayoral
candidate Fernando Ferrer voiced similar sentiments. "
The governor's proposal that the city pay 40 percent
of the cost is ridiculous on its face," he said.
"Bloomberg's position that the city pay zero is
But even though any money may be months, if not years,
away, discussions continue on possible ways to spend
the funds. The City Council has appointed a special
chaired by Anthony
Alvarado, a former school administrator, to formulate
recommendations. As part of its
effort, the commission set up on-line hearings where, for two weeks in
February, New Yorkers could offer their views on what
to do with the money. In their comments,
people called for better facilities, more school
safety officers, improved after-school programs,
providing more children with pre-kindergarten classes,
small class sizes and so on.
Meanwhile, Inside Schools is asking its readers to
offer their ideas on school funding.
Here again, though, many at the Manhattan Institute
discussion took a different tact. Much of the audience
agreed there was simply no money -- tax increases were
not on the table -- and so panelists sought other
solutions to the problems of New York City education.
For example, Charles Brecher of the Citizen Budget
Commission argued that the city
did not need to spend billions of dollars to get the
additional classrooms to reduce class size.
Instead, it could operate schools year-round and shift
students from crowded schools to less congested ones.
Jay Greene, another senior fellow at the institute,
called for merit pay for teachers. The problem with
previous increases in funding, he said, is that they
were not tied to improved performance; instead, the
worse schools did, the more money they got. "A system
that financially rewards failure is more likely to
produce failure," he said
Faced with such comments -- and at time an almost
palpable hostility toward teachers among some in the
crowd -- United Federation of Teachers
President Randi Weingarten sought to be conciliatory.
She noted, for example, that the UFT would support
pilot programs to test some of the ideas presented at
the panel and said the UFT was going to run a charter
school, a school that is publicly funded but
privately run. But she was adamant that, for schools
to improve, some of the additional funding had to be
spent on ensuring a qualified teacher in every
classroom. The way to do that, she said, is to raise
Given New Jersey's experience, though, the teachers
might not want to delay a raise until the court-ordered money
comes in. It could be a long wait.
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