April 2002          





Assemblymember Scott Stringer is a native New Yorker who was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 1992 after more than a decade of political involvement and neighborhood advocacy. Stringer represents the 67th Assembly District on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

Stringer is committed to protecting reproductive rights for women; promoting equal rights for gays and lesbians; preserving the rights of tenants to live in affordable and livable housing; and protecting the rights of working men and women. In the Assembly, Stringer has taken the lead on issues ranging from domestic violence and consumer protection to educational spending and environmental protection. Over his tenure in the Assembly, he has become a highly effective and principled voice in the New York State Legislature.

Stringer is Chair of the New York State Assembly Real Property Taxation Committee and serves on the Education, Higher Education, Housing, Judiciary and Health Committees. Stringer is a former Chair of the Task Force on People with Disabilities and the Assembly Oversight, Analysis and Investigations Committee. As Oversight Chair, he released a study on the chronic shortage of microscopes in NYC science classrooms. Stringer is also a member of the Assembly Task Force on Women's Issues.


This report was written by Assemblymember Scott Stringer and his staff: Jason Haber, Sascha Puritz, John Simpson and Susannah Vickers.

For additional copies of this report, please call Assemblymember Stringer's office: (212) 873-6368 or email


A recent investigation by my office uncovered a shocking problem with New York City's public education system. This problem affects each borough, each grade level and each student. For too long we have accepted it as a modern reality in our schools. But this reality has dire consequences. New York City public schools are in the midst of a textbook crisis. The irreparable harm being done to students on a daily basis needs to be addressed and remedied.

A generation ago, public school students in New York City had textbooks of their own. These books were used for several years and then replaced with newer editions. Teachers had curriculum guidance and taught classes with all the resources they needed. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Today, textbooks in New York City public schools are a scarcity. Teachers routinely cannot assign homework because they do not have enough textbooks for the entire class.

Students are forced to share textbooks and are not permitted to write in workbooks because the workbooks must be used for future classes. When textbooks are available, they are often so woefully outdated and tattered that teachers cannot use them at all. How can our children be expected to meet higher standards if we fail to provide them with the most fundamental tools for learning?

Rather than seeking to fix the problem, the proposed state and city budgets are likely to reduce the already inadequate funds allocated to textbooks. At the state level, Governor Pataki has frozen and even reduced the level of funding for textbooks. The Governor's latest budget proposal calls for a cut of almost $370,000 in the NYC textbooks allocation.1 At the city level, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a 7% reduction in overall funding for the NYC Board of Education in fiscal year 2003. The Board of Education allocates a mere .7% of its total citywide spending for textbooks.2

The following report documents the acute textbook shortage occurring in NYC schools. This lack of resources affects both students and their teachers. It causes learning disadvantages which can lead to high dropout rates and low test scores, and puts teachers in a precarious position.

In some cases, teachers are forced to violate federal copyright law in order to teach their students. The Copyright Act of 1976 clearly defines and outlines acceptable exemptions and prohibitions for teachers.3 Based on the materials collected by my office and our dialogue with administrators, educators, students, and parents, a clear pattern of illegal photocopying due to textbook shortfalls has emerged.

During my investigation, I obtained photocopied materials that were given out by teachers to students in lieu of textbooks. I also spoke with many teachers who confirmed the rampant and pervasive mass photocopying of textbooks. I was told of handwritten sections taken from textbooks, illegible photocopies and copies of entire books. Some teachers photocopy a chapter at a time, others copy the entire book, and others simply copy out of the book with their own handwriting and then give out copies to students.

A plethora of other problems emerge from the textbook shortage. Teachers often spend their mornings waiting in line for the copy machine, and students are left with sub-par study materials. For students, especially learning disabled and dyslexic students who have a hard time reading regular textbooks, blurry or handwritten materials create an extra obstacle and can be exceedingly difficult to read.4

For too long this problem has been allowed to burgeon out of control. In 1996, The New York Times called our textbook policy, "a scandal for more than a decade."5 Yet for some reason this shortage has been accepted without adequately addressing ways to fix it. Our leaders in Albany and City Hall seem to have tacitly accepted the shortfalls and have not worked to change textbook funding formulas or acquisition policies.

I believe that with time and a real commitment from both state and city leaders we can begin to address this intractable problem. My office has developed a five point plan that begins to confront the textbook crisis. This plan was developed in collaboration with administrators, teachers, parents, students and education consultants. Each suggested step is realistic, cost effective and necessary. I hope that my plan will raise the level of achievement and excellence for all of our children in the public schools.


Recently, a group of students came to my office in Albany while lobbying for increased after school funding. During our discussions I was appalled to learn that, not only is there a serious shortage of textbooks in New York City schools, but teachers are forced to illegally photocopy copyrighted material in order to teach their students. While much has been said about the educational crisis, the true conditions facing our children have not lost their ability to shock and anger us. I was particularly outraged by this discussion because the school they were talking about is my alma mater, John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx.

Without textbooks, many students at schools throughout the city are struggling to learn without the aid of the most fundamental education tool. To make matters worse, teachers are put in an untenable position; they are being forced to violate federal copyright laws by photocopying textbooks for use in classroom instruction and for homework assignments.

My office has interviewed students, teachers and parents throughout the five boroughs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this crisis is widespread and long-standing. Some of the most egregious examples uncovered by my staff include:

  • One teacher from an elementary school in East New York, Brooklyn told us: "The minimal number of books we did have were outdated, damaged and of poor quality. Pages were ripped out, and the books were filled with writing. Because there weren't enough books to go around, students had to share textbooks and were not permitted to write in their workbooks. We couldn't assign homework from them because students weren't allowed to bring the books home. Sometimes, we would just copy the information on the blackboard and make students write it down. Before our current principal came in and got us great new textbooks by using resources well and obtaining outside grants, we had Social Studies textbooks from the 70's and 80's. They'd just sit on the shelves because no one wanted to use them. We didn't even have a copy machine to make copies of materials we wanted to use for students. Also, we were never given any guidelines about when copying would be appropriate."6
  • At one middle school located in Harlem, the teacher copied a math textbook by hand and distributed copies to her students. The problem was exacerbated by the difficulty in reading the material. The students, rather than receiving a printed textbook, received a ten page photocopy of the teacher's writing.7
  • One Manhattan elementary school teacher told our office, "You get one skill book for the grade, if you want it for your class, you duplicate the entire book." She then added, "In the morning at the copy machine, you need to get a number and wait on line to use it."8
  • A student wishing to be called 'Nigel' told my staff about the textbook problems in his Manhattan high school. Some students got textbooks and other didn't. According to 'Nigel:' "The teacher only had a few books to give out, and more than half got photocopies. Some of my friends were thinking, 'how come I don't get a book?' Then she passed out photocopies for the rest of us. The copy is ok but I would rather have a book. It seems unfair for some to get books and some don't, they have more to study from than us. The textbook has a lot more topics on what we are studying, but instead we just get pieces." 'Nigel' produced photocopies of Social Studies and Science materials. For those in his Social Studies class, learning about amendments to the U.S. Constitution is very difficult, because it is almost impossible to make out the blurred text in copied materials. His Earth Science meteorology chapter is also difficult to read as a result of poor copy quality.9
  • A teacher for recently arrived immigrants in Washington Heights confessed that massive photocopying of text and workbooks takes place and added that many of the books are hopelessly out of date. She said: "We have a bunch of textbooks that we are using to teach kids about the postal system and they list the price of a stamp at .29 cents. The last time US postal stamps were that price was in 1994."10
  • The only exception was Stuyvesant High School. Ranked among the best in the country, Stuyvesant Freshman Class President Meredith Gringer stated that textbook shortages are: "Not a problem at Stuyvesant High School, everyone gets one, there are even extra books in the library in case you don't have yours that day."11
  • Kurt, a former John Jay High School student in Brooklyn, told my office that most of the materials he received while at John Jay were photocopies.12
  • One Bronx high school teacher told us: "The lack of textbooks make it so there's an obstacle in the learning process. Many of our students struggle with learning already and they need to be provided with all the necessary tools to learn. Last year there was a real lack of textbooks.13
  • Students were not able to review the material at home because they did not have textbooks to bring home with them."


For far too long the meager yearly increases in the Board of Education budget for textbook spending have not kept pace with substantial increases in enrollment and the cost of textbooks. Governor Pataki has ignored the severity and seriousness of the problem, and the NYC Board of Education has been unable to adequately address the shortfall.

With over 1,100 schools, over one million students enrolled and thousands of teachers and administrators employed, the NYC system is the largest in the country. Total spending by the state, city and federal government was a staggering $12.4 billion for NYC public schools last year.14 The NYC school budget is greater in size and scope than many cities and even some states.

In the 2001-2002 NYS budget Governor Pataki froze state spending for NYC textbooks at $77,050,000.15 In January of this year he unveiled his 2002-2003 budget proposal and set State spending on NYC textbooks at $76,680,000, a cut of $370,000 in textbook funding.16 This same budget proposal allocates over $4 million in increased funds for upstate and the suburbs while simultaneously cutting textbook dollars for NYC.17 Since 2000 State aid for textbooks for NYC has remained flat or declined, as demonstrated in the graph below.

graph (Source: New York State Department of Education, Summary of Aids Financed through School Aid Appropriations 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years, New York City. *2002-2003 budget as proposed.)

So far the Board of Education has been able to absorb the cuts from Albany without slashing funding for textbooks. However, that may soon change. Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a proposed $357 million cut in NYC education funding to help make up the city budget shortfall. Now as cuts are being made and with no infusion of cash in sight, the textbook shortage will only get worse.

At local, state and federal levels budget surpluses have disappeared and now major deficits loom. Even during the boom years in the 90's, Board of Education spending on textbooks did not keep up with the increased costs of textbooks and enrollment increases. As discussed, total textbook funding by the State has remained flat for several years in a row. From 1999 through today, textbook allocations from the state have remained the same or been cut even though enrollment at NYC schools has expanded by 11,974 students.18 To make matters worse, the cost of textbooks has risen.19 According to the Association of American Publishers, the cost of textbooks has steadily increased about 3% a year since 1998.20 While books are getting more expensive and enrollment is increasing, New York has not kept up its end of the bargain, leaving students to pay the price.

graphs (Source: New York City Board Of Education, Office of Financial & Management Reporting, two-year textbook spending and enrollment comparison.)

The graphs above demonstrate the rise in NYC public school enrollment while the Board of Education maintains the same spending level on textbooks.


graph (Source: Market Data Retrieval,

From a nationwide vantage point, New York State allocates a smaller percentage of its education budget to textbooks than most other states. The State ranks in the bottom third of the country in terms of its allocation percentage for textbooks. As you can see from the above graph, even large states with hefty tax-bases like Florida and California spend a higher percentage of their education budgets on textbooks than New York. Many states, especially those with minorities living in urban centers, are facing a crisis similar to ours in New York.

New York City is not alone in its textbook shortage. The examples below demonstrate the nationwide scope of this problem.

  • In 2000, a class action lawsuit was filed by a coalition of civil rights groups against California for its failure to comply with its constitutional obligation to "provide the bare essentials necessary for education."21 In their lawsuit, the groups claimed that the lack of textbooks and learning materials made it impossible for the state to fulfill its constitutional education mandate. This case is relevant to New York City because the lawsuit claimed school districts where minorities attend were the lowest funded in the state. "The failures this lawsuit addresses are not randomly distributed," said the Litigation Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. "They are concentrated in communities of color, in economically struggling communities, in migrant communities."22
  • Glancing through a social studies textbook in Portland, Oregon, one would read about today's Cold War, the re-election of our then current president Ronald Reagan, and of course the war in Afghanistan -- the Soviet's war in Afghanistan.23
  • The textbook problem in Palm Beach County schools in Florida centers on students simply not returning books at the end of the year. In 2000-2001, the districts' students lost or damaged $961,759 worth of books.24


Textbook shortages force teachers to make tough choices. Sometimes, when faced with the prospect of not assigning homework or not distributing an in-class reading assignment because there are not enough books for each student, a teacher will photocopy the material and hand it out. To reproduce copyrighted material for the purpose of distribution in an attempt to evade purchase of that material is a violation of the United States copyright law. The legislative history of the Copyright Act of 1976 endorsed the following guidelines:25

    Notwithstanding any of the above, the following shall be prohibited:
    1. Copying shall not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compellations or collective works. Such replacement or substitution may occur whether copies of various works or excerpts there from are accumulated or reproduced and used separately.
    2. There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be "consumable" in the course of study or of teaching. These include workbooks, exercises, standardized tests and test booklets and answer sheets and like consumable material.
    3. Copying shall not:
      1. substitute for the purchase of books, publishers' reprints or periodicals;
      2. be directed by higher authority;
      3. be repeated with respect to the same item by the same teacher from term to term.
      4. No charge shall be made to the student beyond the actual cost of the photocopying.

Sections 107 and 108 of title 17 of the United States Code, outline fair use exemptions to copyright protections. There are situations where a teacher may photocopy entire articles, passages, or segments of textbooks provided the copying meets the tests of brevity, spontaneity and cumulative effect.26

    The test of brevity requires the copied material to be either:
    1. a poem of under 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or essay from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words;
    2. a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words or an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1,000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words.

    The test of spontaneity demands that:
    1. the copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher, and
    2. the inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.

    The cumulative effect test requires that:
    1. The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
    2. Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copied from the same author, nor more than three from the same collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
    3. There shall be no more than 9 instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.


Many NYC kids struggle to learn without the most basic tools, textbooks. As a result, NYC public school children routinely score far below upstate and suburban students on state standardized tests.27 The recent historic ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York was a watershed moment for the city's public schools. The judge ruled that the state violated the constitutional rights of thousands of school children by failing to provide a "sound basic education."28 Justice Leland DeGrasse's decision held that a sound basic education includes: "Sufficient and up to date books, supplies, libraries, educational technology and laboratories."29

Justice DeGrasse specifically cited the failure of the New York State Textbook Law to provide for the students of NYC:

    "The primary source of State funding for textbooks is the New York State Textbook law ("NYSTL"). In the 1995-96 school year the NYSTL allocation was $35 per student, an amount that the New York City Comptroller found in a 1996 report to be inadequate. Two years later, in 1997-98, the allocation was increased by $1 per student to $36. The allocation crept up to $41 per student in 1999-2000. The NYSTL must cover the costs of numerous types of instructional materials, not just hardcover textbooks. While the evidence at trial demonstrated that hardcover textbooks must be replaced every 3-4 years, other materials known as "consumables" are used up in a year. The NYSTL allocation is inadequate to cover the cost of all these materials."30

The current conditions in NYC public schools that led to the DeGrasse decision are staggering. Below are some statistics from the Daily News and the CFE website:31

  • The State school funding formula allocates 35% of the state education budget to the city while it makes up 38% of the State's public student body.
  • 1/3 of the students in the NYC schools are illiterate.
  • 40% never get a diploma.
  • Outside the city, schools have twice the amount of computers per 100 students.
  • In 1998-1999, the average district spent $10,317 per pupil on education. New York City spent $9,623. Suburban districts spent much more. Great Neck, Long Island spent $17,640, while Scarsdale spent $13,923.
  • Only 27% of high school graduates in NYC earned a Regents diploma in 2000, while 49% did so in the rest of the state.
  • In 1999-2000, only 42% of NYC's fourth graders scored at the highest levels on the state English Language Arts exam, while 84% did so in certain high performing districts. Statewide, 59% of students scored at this level.
  • NYC has 7.4 computers per 1000 students, while the average district with low student needs has 21.7. NYC has 8.3 library books per student, while the average low need district has 21.9.
  • In 2000, only 55% of NYC's high school students tested passed the Regents Mathematics I exam. 91% passed in low need districts and 76% passed statewide.

According to a city official, "At a time when two out of every three city fourth graders fail a statewide reading and writing test, at a time when more than half of city students fail to perform at the national average in mathematics, our schools need more resources to hire qualified teachers, build classrooms, and buy books."32

According to Jeanne Allen, the President of the Center for Education Reform, "The drive for better schools is usually limited to issues of standards, testing, choice and teachers. Missing from most discussions is the role that textbooks play in the achievement of children."33 Concurring with Ms. Allen's assessment, The New York Times stated, "Education is futile if students lack even the most basic learning tools."34

In 1997 the School Division of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) in partnership with the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) released a daunting study about the shortage of textbooks.35 Since these figures were released five years ago, there have been no major changes in the way we approach the textbook crisis. In fact, since we've employed the same funding formula since 1997, it's likely that these numbers have only grown worse. In their study they found:

  • 35% of New York teachers have to borrow textbooks from their colleagues;
  • 24% cannot assign homework because books have to be left at school;
  • 21% say their classes are disrupted because students must share books;
  • 56% say they have to purchase materials with their own money including nearly one in five who report having had to spend more than $500 last year; and
  • One in five New York teachers say their newest textbook is more than five years old and nearly a third say they have textbooks that are more than ten years old and that students receive incorrect information in these old books.

While the Times supported the infusion of cash for books, it reiterated a stronger point, one that seems to be lost to this day on most politicians, "the ultimate solution lies not in one-shot fixes but in rationalizing the funding formula by which textbook aid flows from Albany."36

As detailed in the pending Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, the textbook crisis is a by-product of the budget battles in Albany. Budgetary decisions being made today by the Governor and the Board of Education affect the availability of textbooks for current students. The latest proposed Pataki budget from Albany suggests he has once again chosen to ignore the seriousness of the funding shortage in NYC. While NY State would decrease its contribution to NYC schools, its statewide commitment to fund textbooks would rise by $4,630,000.37

The lack of resources for our students is in violation of students rights to a basic education and undoubtedly contributes to low achievement by NYC students.38 I believe that the following five point plan begins to solve this challenging problem.


After careful review of the situation, it is clear that something must change. The disturbing lack of funding for textbooks has left the schools reeling. Teachers can't teach, and children can't learn. We are making it almost impossible for our public school children to aggressively compete in the world that awaits them. In the 21st century our kids are not just competing with upstate or west coast children, but with students around the world.

Following my meetings with administrators, teachers and students, I have designed a five point program to address the textbook crisis. The plan calls for three main categories of improvement: funding, development and outreach.

There is no single solution to the problem. Instead a total systematic overhaul involving how we use, purchase, maintain, upgrade and allocate dollars for textbooks is needed.

1. Increase the state textbook allocation for New York City schools by 30%. This would be the first substantial increase from the State in textbook funding in years. It would raise the State allocation level for NYC from $76.68 million to $100 million.

2. Convene a task force of principals and superintendents to determine system-wide per-school allocations for textbooks - As proposed by the Education Priorities Panel, the task force would develop new ways of determining system-wide per school allocations for textbooks as well as strategize about ways to better use the resources currently available. Education advocates have long suspected that the 'unofficial' policy of the city's Office of Management and Budget has been to let parents and school staff subsidize the cost of textbooks.39 A task force of those on the front lines of this problem would help to facilitate new ideas and approaches to solving it.

3. Reward students who return textbooks in good condition - Other districts around the country have attempted forms of punishment when a student does not return a textbook. It is not surprising that this does not work. Rather than accentuate the negative, we believe it is important to give students positive reinforcement. Instead of punishing them if they don't return, we propose rewarding them when they do return books. This will teach them the value of responsibility and trust. We should consider developing a program with the private sector and give students a real incentive to maintain their books.

4. More teacher involvement in textbook selection - Teachers should be encouraged to explore multiple textbooks from various publishing houses and recommend to their department chair which book would work best. When asked if they would like to pick a new publishing house or textbook, teachers reacted with delight saying, "I never thought of that," or "that has not been an option."

5. More Access to Community and University Libraries - These public facilities need to be welcoming venues for students. More programs and partnerships need to be created to encourage students to use these facilities as an extension of the classroom. The consortium of NYC colleges should develop more activities with local high schools and encourage the use of their state of the art research facilities.


1 New York State Department of Education, Summary of Aids Financed through School Aid Appropriations -2001-02 and 2002-03 school years, New York City.
2 New York City Board Of Education, Office of Financial & Management Reporting, Fiscal Year 2001 Expenditures.
3 US Copyright Regulations Booklet for Educators, Librarians and Archivists, United States Copyright Office.
4 Interview with an undisclosed NYC Public School Special Education Teacher.
5 The New York Times, "New York City's Tattered Textbooks," Editorial, A32, November 15, 1996.
6 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with undisclosed NYC public school teacher.
7 Obtained from a Harlem Middle School via an undisclosed source.
8 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with undisclosed NYC public school teacher.
9 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with 'Nigel', a student attending an NYC public high school.
10 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with undisclosed NYC public school teacher.
11 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with Stuyvesant Freshman Class President Meredith Gringer.
12 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with a Brooklyn high school student.
13 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with a Bronx high school teacher.
14 New York City Board Of Education, Office of Financial & Management Reporting, Fiscal Year 2001 Expenditures.
15 New York State Department of Education, Summary of Aids Financed through School Aid Appropriations -2001-02 and 2002-2002-03 school years, New York City.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid.
18 New York City Board Of Education, Office of Financial & Management Reporting, three-year enrollment comparison.
19 Interview conducted by Assemblymember Stringer's staff with Steven Driesler of the Association of American Publishers.
20 Ibid.
21 American Civil Liberties Union, "Landmark Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Public School Students Demands Basic Education Rights Promised in State Constitution," May 17, 2000
22 Ibid.
23 Chestnut, Clifton, "Portland Textbooks get Oldschool Officials Blame, 1986 Social Studies Texts on Tight Budget," The Oregonian, 11/20/01.
24 Patrick, Kellie, "Textbook shortage hits Palm Beach schools, leaving some students struggling," Sun-Sentinel, August 29, 2001.
25 "Agreement on Guidelines for Classroom Copying," from legislative history of the 1976 Copyright Act, Ad Hoc Committee on Copyright Law Revision.
26 Ibid.
27 "NY State School Districts' Response to State Imposed High School Graduation Requirements: An Eight-Year Retrospective," A Condition Study Prepared for the New York State Educational Finance Research Consortium," May 25, 2001.
28 Campaign for Fiscal Equity, "The New York State Education Finance System."
29 Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York, 187 misc. 2d1 (Sup.Ct.N.Y.Co. 2001), page 179.
30 Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York, 187 misc. 2d1 (Sup.Ct.N.Y.Co. 2001), page 88.
31 Daily News, "Final Judgement on School Funding," January 11, 2001, and Campaign for Fiscal Equity,
32 Vallone, Peter. Campaign for Fiscal Equity, "Parents, Prominent New Yorkers Crowd Foley Square for Courthouse Rally," news release, October 12, 1999.
33 Allen, Jeanne. "The Textbook Conundrum: what are our children learning and who decides?" Association of American Educators.
34 The New York Times, "New York City's Tattered Textbooks," Editorial, A32, November 15, 1996.
35 Association of American Publishers, "Textbook Shortages and Outdated Information Plaguing Teachers and Students in New York," June 24, 1997.
36 Ibid.
37 New York State Department of Education, Summary of Aids Financed through School Aid Appropriations -2001-02 and 2002-03 school years, New York City.
38 Maull, Samuel, Associated Press, Assembly News Service, January, 10, 2001.
39 "Beating the Odds: High Achieving Elementary Schools in High-Poverty Neighborhoods," Education Priorities Panel, June 1999.
* all numbers in the report have been rounded.