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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Mon, Jul 2, 2007

Turning CFE Law into CFE Reality: Contracts for Excellence

By Geri D. Palast, Manhattan Times and Greenwhich Village Gazette

Gov. Spitzer's 2007-08 state education budget provides a record $1.76 billion increase in funding for next year and ushers in a new "Foundation Aid" formula that distributes money based on need. The new school aid plan, which includes a commitment to an additional $7 billion over the next four years and was born out of the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, is a resounding victory for New York's 2.8 million schoolchildren.

What happens now? We must devise and implement smart strategies for spending these funds and develop measures for holding administrators accountable. To this end, Governor Spitzer created the annual Contracts for Excellence, which fifty-six low performing school districts statewide — New York City counts as one — must sign outlining how to use the monies to serve the neediest students through a menu of five key strategies — quality teaching, class size reduction, full day pre-k, more time on task and middle and high school restructuring.

We must proceed on three fronts:

• First, the Regents and the State Education Department must give clear direction and set clear measurements and goals for accountability. These rules must require districts to detail how the money will be spent, in which schools, on which students, how progress will be measured, and how we will know that goals are met and student achievement has improved. The rules must also specify how the districts will provide transparent public information and reporting, and allow for meaningful public input in planning, commenting, and raising grievances.

• Second, in New York City, Chancellor Klein must develop and implement a citywide Contract as well as Contracts in all 32 community school districts by July 1. The chancellor must articulate a clear process for soliciting the public comment required by the law. Given the time constraints in this first year, we call on the chancellor to immediately reach out to parents and advocates for input, share his Contract plan and provide at least two weeks for public comment to ensure that the public’s voices are heard and incorporated in the proposed Contract for Excellence due July 1.

• Third, the public must be fully engaged as advocates and watchdogs. It is the public that will be the ultimate arbiter of success and accountability. We need clear direction at all levels, from the Regents and State Education Department down to school districts, advocacy groups, and parent organizations. Most importantly, we cannot again lose sight of the students with the greatest needs. New York’s children have waited long enough. The time is now to deliver on their constitutional right to a sound basic education.

Geri Palast is Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the coalition of parents, community and advocacy organizations leading the reform of New York State’s school finance system.

Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >