Alliance joins school funding battle
Aid formula not fair, group says
SCHENECTADY Schenectady Superintendent of Schools Laurence Spring has found more allies in his quest to change the state aid formula for schools.
The Alliance for Quality Education took up his fight Tuesday, giving the state a failing grade on the grounds that it was not providing enough funds to close the achievement gap between poor and rich students.
At a press conference, AQE organized a number of speakers who criticized the state Education Department at length.
Among them was Natasha Capers, a parent from Brooklyn, who said her children were not given access to the same level of education that more wealthy students receive.
“The bare-bones [model] of education is unacceptable, and I’m angry that my child has less opportunities to success than other children in this state,” she said. “The state must fund school districts adequately.”
Spring repeated the message he has given at presentations throughout the region. The Schenectady City School District, which is made up mostly of minority students, gets less of its agreed-upon aid than mostly white school districts. Many other districts with minority students are also receiving far less than the median funding.
Schenectady gets 54 percent of the aid it needs to provide a sound, basic education, according to the state’s calculations. The typical school district in the state gets 82 percent of its needed funds.
“How the state is distributing this funding is skewed dramatically,” Spring said. “We need to make sure, at the very minimum, our poorest kids are being taken care of.”
His statistics infuriated other speakers.
Willie White, executive director of A Village (as in “it takes a village to raise a child”), said the state’s funding choices fly in the face of the philosophy behind the No Child Left Behind Act.
“I’ve heard a lot about No Child Left Behind. They didn’t mention it’s no child left behind unless you’re from a certain neighborhood,” he said.
He noted that the graduation rate for white students is 28 percent higher than the rate for black students.
“I thought we were all in this together,” he said, adding that he had a message for Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I’m blaming you for this,” he said. “They’ve brought this to your attention for a long time.”
David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center in New Jersey, has also joined the fight to try to change New York’s funding formula. He said the formula should give the most money to the neediest students.
“New York state’s funding system has it upside-down. Poor kids get less. Rich kids get more,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking for thousands of parents and students across the state who are essentially being deprived of their right, their constitutional right, to a sound, basic education.”
He dismissed recent efforts by the state to run pilot programs — 30 community schools, where students can get mental health services and other help, and programs that extended the school day or year for 13,000 students.
That’s not enough, he said.
“We can’t be talking about 30 schools or 1 percent of the kids,” Sciarra said. “We have to be talking about building a school system.”
The Education Department responded by saying that it is working to craft a better system.
“To answer AQE’s question, ‘Are we there yet?’ — no, of course we’re not there yet. We just completed the first year of an effort to transform an enormous system,” said Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman. “There are many obstacles to changing the status quo. But we are well on our way, and this is not the time to slow down or turn back. Every year that goes by increases the urgency to improve our schools. The full impact of the reforms will take time, but we’re moving forward, and we’re in this for the long haul.”
He said the state is focusing on college and career readiness. Too many students graduate only to find out that they need skills they didn’t get in high school, he said.
“They’re forced to take high school classes at college prices or they enter the job market without marketable skills,” he said. “That’s why the department is moving ahead with such urgency on the Regents reform agenda and working so hard to get implementation right.”