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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Berne Implores Panel to Impose a Detailed Remedy on the Legislature

Drawing on his 30 years of academic and political experience in promoting reform of New York State's school funding formulas, Dr. Robert Berne, Senior Vice President for Health and Professor of Public Policy and Financial Management at New York University, urged the panel of special referees to recommend a strong court order that will require the legislature to quickly enact real reform. In his October 21 testimony, Dr. Berne called on the panel to detail (1) an exact dollar amount needed to provide all students the opportunity for a sound basic education; (2) a precise funding mechanism to ensure a fair and predictable distribution of the money; and (3) an accountability system that ensures the funds are wisely spent. Dr. Berne said without such specificity, the panel's November 30 report would trigger a familiar "tail-chasing exercise" that will not result in actual reforms, despite the sweeping Court of Appeals' decision and the referees' hard work.

In his testimony, Dr. Berne also called the plaintiffs' AIR/MAP study "extremely solid, well-researched, and well-documented," and said it represents "the best of the costing-out studies" he has seen. He questioned the relevance of the governor's Standard & Poor's (S&P) study to New York State, testifying that the S&P figures are based on weightings that were plucked from the national school finance literature and do not account for the kinds of educational programs that New York students require to receive their opportunity for a sound basic education. He also endorsed the foundation formula and mechanism for determining state and local shares of the foundation amount set forth in the final report of CFE's Sound Basic Education Task Force, calling them "tried and true" means to combine a district's ability to pay with the specific needs and costs of its pupils. Stressing the merit of a foundation formula, he told the panel that "from a public policy perspective, it is infinitely more important to propose a specific funding mechanism that determines, in a predictable way, how funds are distributed over a multi-year period then to solely stipulate a dollar amount." In the current system, said Dr. Berne, the governor and the legislature determine each year what amount New York City will receive for education and then decide what percentage of that amount will be borne by the city and what percentage will be borne by State -- a process that is subject to manipulation by political leaders.

When asked by Joseph Wayland, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, if the panel should involve itself in offering specific recommendations to bring the state's funding system into constitutional compliance, Dr. Berne was adamant that the panel take up this task. He reminded the panel that the State has had multiple opportunities over the years to reform the antiquated funding formulas but has failed to do so. Recognizing the difficulties this could pose with the legislature, Dr. Berne suggested that in the absence of any State compliance plan, the referees' final recommendations should be used by the legislature as the standard by which they measure, and ultimately implement, their own plan for a constitutionally acceptable school funding system. "If the legislature can devise a plan that satisfies the court mandate, that is fine," he explained, "but in the meantime, the referees' plan could serve as a placeholder and a standard against which the State is held accountable." Leaving the details in the hands of a political system that has historically struggled to make such decisions, even after numerous state commissions have called the formulas unfair and in need of adjustment, could be an opportunity wasted, Dr. Berne said.

The panel will hold its last hearing on Monday, November 1 at 9:00 a.m. to hear closing arguments from both parties. details>>

October 22, 2004

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 >