Assemblywoman Peoples Says "Zarb Report Days Late and Dollars Short"

BACKGROUND:

In June 1995, the New York State Court of Appeals gave the Campaign for Fiscal Equity approval to pursue a constitutional challenge to New York State's educational funding system based on the grounds that it denied thousands of students in New York City access to a sound education. Permission was given for this constitutional challenge after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) met the court's challenge to establish a direct correlation between funding and educational opportunity. In other words, they had to prove that insufficient funding of public education by the State of New York was a prime reason for the poor academic performance of its school children. In addition, they had to prove that proper funding would yield measurable improvement in student learning. The following timeline illustrates the major turn of events surrounding this case:


January 10, 2001 The NYS Supreme Court ruled in favor of CFE; Governor Pataki ordered to create plan for reform of public school education funding by 9/15/01.

August 13, 2001 Governor Pataki appealed Supreme Court decision in Appellate Court.

June 25, 2002 The Appellate Court reversed the Supreme Court's decision of 1/10/01; declares State Constitution guarantee of a sound education could be met with an 8th or 9th grade skill level.

January 31, 2003 CFE appealed the Appellate Court's decision

April 9, 2003 Governor Pataki contested CFE's appeal request

June 26, 2003 The Court of Appeals overturned Appellate Court's reversal; Governor Pataki ordered to formulate public school funding reform plan by July 30, 2004 or a special master would be appointed by the Court to impose a solution.


Governor Pataki created a 22 member commission to explore public school education reform. That commission, named after its chairman, Frank G. Zarb, was given the charge of analyzing public school funding in New York State and to determine the cost of a "sound, basic education". The Commission was to report its findings, complete with recommendations for systemic changes. Unfortunately the Zarb Commissions report for the most part, is a replay of Governor Pataki's failed proposals for reform that have been rejected by the State Legislature year after year. It doesn't address all the issues that need attention and the timing of its release (March 30 - 2 days before the State's annual budget deadline) is more political than punctual. Governor Pataki has acted in a much less than responsible manner. The CFE ruling occurred on June 26, 2003. He didn't appoint the Zarb Commission until September 3, 2003 and then he set a March 1, 2004 deadline for them to submit their report, which is well after he is required to present his budget. (The report was 3 weeks late.) This blatant display of unwillingness to include the CFE mandate as part of the upcoming budget is unacceptable.

Despite the existence of numerous studies on the cost of a "sound, basic education" by experts such as CFE, Syracuse University, the Mid-State School Finance Consortium and our own NYS Board of Regents, the Zarb Commission conducted its own and unsurprisingly enough, its' findings differed significantly. According to a study done by CFE (The New York Adequacy Study), the state must invest an additional $7.7 billion in the 2004-2005 executive budget to ensure each student in public school receives adequate instruction to obtain a Regent's level education. The Zarb Commission's plan calls for between $2.5 and 5.6 billion dollars over a 5 year period. From all given indications, this is woefully inadequate.


While the Zarb report does include some ideas for reform worthy of merit and consideration, the Governor is still playing a dangerous game with the future of NYS children who attend public schools. Governor Pataki's legal battle against CFE cost taxpayers over $11 million. While the governor continued to downplay the importance of education reform during his fight against CFE, the NYS Assembly's budgets have increased school aid by 40 percent. As of today, Governor Pataki still has not provided the State Legislature with the plan of reform mandated by the court.

If we don't have an equitable solution by the July 30 deadline, the Court is going to appoint a Master who is obligated to follow the facts of the CFE decision and therefore can only address the financial needs of New York City public schools, which is what the original 1995 CFE constitutional challenge was based on. If that happens, only New York City public schools would receive more funding. All school districts outside of New York City would be excluded. We are coming dangerously close to this situation. Students in the Buffalo public schools cannot be locked out of the reform plan. The quality of our children's education is in jeopardy. I urge you to take action today! Write, call or email Governor Pataki and tell him the Zarb Commission's report is days late and dollars short! Tell him not only is it time for action - it's time for leadership! Write to Governor George E. Pataki at State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224. Call him at (518) 474-8390. The email address is www.state.ny.us/governor/.


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