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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Mon, Feb 11, 2008

Voices: Budget Cuts Mean Unequal Schooling

By Neil Demause, Opinion column, Metro NY

When Gov. Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg issued their yearly budget proposals recently, they contained a nasty surprise for city schoolchildren: close to $400 million in cuts to public-school budgets, with more reductions planned in the future.

Those cuts will take a sizable bite out of the cash expected from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that found the state wasn’t providing enough money to guarantee city kids a decent high-school education. (The Pataki administration had tried to argue in court that a ninth-grade education would do just fine. It lost.) Not to worry, said the mayor: His directive that every school immediately slash 1.7 percent from its budget would have “no impact whatsoever” because “I know of no organization where you couldn’t squeeze out 1.7 percent, or even a lot more.” Added schools chief Joel Klein helpfully: “Money isn’t everything.”

Certainly, with the economy in the crapper, it looks like lean budget times ahead. And the Department of Education does often seem like it could lose $400 million beneath the sofa cushions. Still, all it takes is a look at any 28-kid kindergarten class to see that school budgets aren’t exactly pork-laden. When news of Bloomberg’s mid-year cuts came down, principals flooded with panicked messages about how to meet the mayor’s directive; one Bronx elementary school principal said she’d have to either fire five teachers or eliminate virtually all after-school clubs and sports.

The cuts also mean that schools will be even more reliant on private fundraising — and that’s bad news for school equity. In well-off neighborhoods, parent associations already raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to supplement official funds; parents hit up corporate donors, help write grants and even dip into their own pockets to hire extra teachers. Needless to say, this is easier if you’re a Wall Street broker than a single mom in the South Bronx. It’s a scenario that puts the lie to any notion of a level playing field for city school kids. So long as schools are starved for cash and parents are left to pick up the slack, quality education will remain tilted toward the deep-pocketed — and those with the most pull to gripe about cuts will be insulated from their worst effects. Until City Hall and Albany recognize this, getting a quality education is going to remain as dependent on the class you come from as the one you attend.

Neil deMause is a Brooklyn-based journalist whose writings can be found at and

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 >