After fifteen years of struggle, and 8 years of grassroots organizing by the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York, the Alliance for Quality Education and many coalition partners across the state, in 2007 New York State passed historic education funding reform legislation. New York enacted a new state school aid formula based on need, changing an unfair system in which districts with large numbers of low-income students and children of color were shortchanged. The historic legislation also included clear accountability provisions to make sure the money was spent where it belongs: to improve student achievement. In addition, the formula provided an historic increase in state school aid, and a commitment in law to further historic increases over a four-year period. Since the passage of the new funding formula, we have continued to fight to make sure the promised funding is provided, and for implementation of accountability measures and community participation.
The State has faced continued projected budget deficits, which have been used to validate proposed cuts to education funding. Through continued proposed cuts, and problems with the Contracts for Excellence process, PPEF has released reports showing the importance and critical need for fully funding education in New York State.
Enforcing Accountability by School Districts for Use of New Funds
The 2007 school funding law required that failing districts complete a ‘Contract for Excellence’ to explain how they planned to use the new state funds, and they were given a set of specific options for use of the funds. In 2008, in Buffalo, Syracuse, Long Island, New York City, Rochester and Albany we organized parents, youth and community organizations to hold their school systems accountable for spending the new funds effectively so that students would reap the benefits of fifteen years of struggle, and specifically to make sure the funds were targeted to the highest need students and targeted to educational strategies that work.
To do this, we organized parents and community organizations representing low-income communities, immigrants, and communities of color to use the provisions in the law that require community participation. This effort was challenging in 2008 since the districts did not receive the level of funding increase they had expected, but despite that, we were able to increase parent participation and win several important local victories.
In all of our efforts, parent, youth and community organizing and leadership development have been the key to PPEF’s success. We have brought parents voices to the front of the debate across the state.
Continuing our Work
PPEF’s strategy to create the public will to provide quality education for all children in New York is based community involvement. Currently faced with an enormous state budget deficit, PPEF has taken this as an opportunity to engage New Yorkers at the grassroots, and to deepen the involvement of those who are already active. Communities that depend most heavily on public or government financed services are facing devastating proposed budget cuts. Despite a fiscal meltdown, we have consistently advanced the idea that education should not be sacrificed; rather that investing in education and spending the money on programs that are proven to be effective, will make New York more economically competitive in the long-term.