Boro pols fight state for city school funding

By Adam Kramer

On the second day that Queens children headed back to school, black and Latino lawmakers joined forces with five mayoral candidates and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to blast the governor for trying to block a court decision that increased state funding to the city’s public schools

State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) helped to lead the fight against Gov. George Pataki’s appeal of State Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse’s January ruling in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity at a Friday news conference in Manhattan.

The ruling ordered the state Legislature to find a better system of providing money for schools in the state’s five largest cities led by New York.

In front of State Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan, Clark was joined by three of the Democratic mayoral candidates — Fernando Ferrer, Mark Green and Alan Hevesi — and other politicians to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the CFE decision.

Democratic mayoral candidate Peter Vallone and Republican candidate Michael Bloomberg signed the brief but did not attend the news conference. The CFE must file its brief against the Pataki by Sept. 21.

“We will continue to battle the governor in court until he adequately funds our children’s schools,” Clark, the leader of the education committee of the Black and Latino Caucus, said. “The governor must be made to feel political pressure now, so that our children are not forced to endure another academic year without the resources, teachers and facilities they need to succeed.”

She said the added funding will increase the overall spending on each student from about $6,000 to about $10,000.

In addition, she said, the extra money will go a long way to alleviate the overcrowding throughout the borough, which has the most severe overcrowding problem in the city.

“This is amazing coming from the same legislators who just voted to cut New York City school aid from 38 percent to 16 percent of the state-wide total,” said Joseph Conway, a spokesman for Pataki. “While the governor is working hard to reform the school aid formula to benefit New York City, these legislators just say one thing to the press and then vote to shortchange the children of New York City.”

In his ruling, DeGrasse cited overcrowded schools in Queens and the other boroughs to illustrate the city’s overwhelming need for additional resources. DeGrasse’s decision was hailed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a coalition of parents and advocacy groups that originally filed the lawsuit in 1993 and drew praise from many borough political leaders.

Observers have cited a deficiency in state funding as one of the reasons for severe overcrowding in Queens public schools. The city Board of Education has 38 percent of the state public school population but receives only 35.5 percent of the state’s educational budget, said the CFE.

Ferrer said the current funding formula is “robbing the future of New York City children.” The disproportion in funding has been going on for 20 years and is the reason why upstate and suburban children have so much more at their fingertips in the classroom.

“It is bad enough that for years Albany has discriminated by budgets and construction formulas against New York City kids,” said Green. “It is outrageous and indefensible for the governor to willfully appeal this decision and continue a discrimination that has now been proven.”

Hevesi said all Pataki is doing is prolonging the inevitable. “The shame of this is we will win this case. We will win on appeal.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

More from Around New York