By Kathianne Boniello
A day after parents and education advocates rallied last week for increased funding of city public schools outside a Manhattan courthouse, a state Democratic task force blasted the Legislature for “playing politics” with school financing.
The Senate Minority Task Force on School Aid Equity, which is co-chaired by state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), released a report Friday calling on the Legislature and Gov. George Pataki to abide by a January 2001 State Supreme Court decision ordering the state to give city schools enough financial resources for a “sound basic education.” Pataki appealed the decision a few days after State Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse issued it.
The education rally in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park was held to draw attention to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case and Pataki’s appeal, which went before a five-judge State Supreme Court Appellate Division panel last Thursday.
The rally came a day after the state Legislature approved a new state budget which slashes the city’s allotment of education funding from the traditional 35 percent to 21 percent.
The task force report, which recommended the creation of an independent “expert panel” to help revise the state’s confusing and burdensome school funding formulas, criticized the state Legislature for failing to enact reforms earlier.
“The recommendations of the expert panel should not be ignored, as in past years,” the task force report said. “It is time for the Legislature to stop playing politics with our children’s future and the future of this state.”
DeGrasse’s January 2001 decision in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a nonprofit coalition of parents and advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit against the state in 1993, has been considered a landmark ruling urging the state to correct its arcane school funding formula.
CFE lawyers have often argued that the state’s current school funding is determined not through New York’s confusing, laborious formulas, but by the politics of “three men in a room” — Pataki, state Assembly leader Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer).
Though DeGrasse ordered the Legislature to enact the reform by Sept. 15, 2001, Pataki’s appeal of the decision has sent the case crawling through state courts and delayed any final outcome for at least another year.
The rally was organized by the CFE and the nonprofit Alliance for Quality Education. Between 100 and 200 people, including students, parents, education advocates and some politicians, berated Pataki for appealing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision and state lawmakers for failing to increase funding for city schools.
While many in the crowd held handmade signs, one much photographed poster seemed to sum up the CFE’s opposition to Pataki’s appeal.
The large poster featured a group of students chasing a yellow school bus with a cartoonish depiction of Pataki trailing behind. The posters message read: “Leave no child behind? You must be kidding, Pataki. Or else you’ve got some catching up to do yourself.”
Throughout most of the state, school districts generate a majority of their revenue through property taxes. In the state’s five biggest cities — New York, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Yonkers — the state determines how much money is given to run each city’s public schools. Educational needs, such as services required to help students learn to speak English or to meet the state’s newly raised academic standards, are not considered in funding decisions.
One statistic often cited by the CFE says the city Board of Education has 38 percent of the state public school population, but receives just 35.5 percent of the state’s total educational budget.
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.