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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Dr. Robert Berne

Dr. Robert Berne, Vice President for Academic Development at New York University and a leading national authority on school equity and finance, testified that the New York State financing system is ineffective and that unlike most other major urban districts New York spends less than the state average.

Dr. Berne also testified that the complex combined wealth calculations used to determine the ability of each local district to fund education do not necessarily determine how much aid a district will receive. He confirmed Interim Chancellor Levy’s testimony regarding NYC’s fixed share of state aid:

[I]t is well known that the share of New York City’s increase in aid is determined first in the legislative process and then the formulas are actually driven backwards to get that share to come out...
Dr. Berne noted that even in years when the spending goes up, the increase to New York City turns out to be a fixed share of 38.86% of the increase. Berne opined that “the agreement negates the general factors that are shown in the formulas in terms of the factors that are supposedly driving resources to children in school districts.”

Dr. Berne testified that there are four criteria to be used for assessing state finance systems. These are whether the formula: (1) addresses pupil needs; (2) addresses regional costs; (3) addresses each district’s ability to pay (wealth); and (4) there is an alignment between the educational goals and the finance system.

Berne concluded that the New York State finance system: does not adequately take into account pupil needs as the low-needs districts are spending substantially higher amounts per pupil; does not take into account regional costs; does not take into account ability to pay and there is no alignment with the state learning standards.

Dr. Berne relied primarily on reports of State Comptroller Carl McCall, which were admitted into evidence by Judge Leland DeGrasse over strong objections by the attorneys for the State. McCall’s reports concede that the state aid formula is a political deal, not a formula based on need, wealth, enrollment or attendance rates. The State has continually tried to keep out evidence that supports CFE’s claim that New York City gets a fixed share of 38.86% of the state aid increase annually.

Berne stated that he concurred with the Comptroller’s finding:

The current day complexity and convoluted nature of the aid system is the result of many years of manipulation of the formulas through the budget process. Each year the legislative leadership and the executive agree on some broad parameters for school aid, such as how much the year-to-year increase will be and on how, overall, the aid will be distributed among regions... Although the formulas were originally intended to reflect need, each year’s manipulation is in truth most heavily driven by a politically determined distribution requirement.
Dr. Berne also testified that New York City public schools are at least as efficient as those in the rest of the state. NYC spends the state average of 2% of its budget on central administration and 63% of its budget on instruction, as compared to the state average of 62%.

Dr. Berne stated that New York City needs greater resources in order to provide its students with an adequate education. He testified that to determine what resources are needed, New York needs to bring non-partisan education experts together to measure what educational programs and resources are required to achieve the learning standards. He also reviewed recent attempts to reform education finance systems in other states to assure adequacy, and concluded that court involvement is an important and beneficial aspect of finance reform.

During intense cross-examination, Dr. Berne parried defendants’ attempts to justify each element of the state aide formulas, saying that whatever theoretical rationale those elements have is beside the point: the bottom-line figures are the result of political manipulation. Dr. Berne also defended the methodology he and his colleagues at NYU used in their study of the racial impact of New York’s state aid system. In that study, the group concluded that even if one controls for poverty and other factors, minority students receive significantly less funding under the current system than other students.

Testimony given on February 9 & 15, 2000

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 >