Summary of Plaintiffs' Evidence at Trial
New York State Needs to Fund its Standards
Since the start of trial, the issue of how best to help disadvantaged students meet higher state learning standards has been at the center of the case.
- Early on, Education Commissioner Richard Mills, former Commissioner Thomas Sobol and Chancellor of the State Board of Regents Carl Hayden all testified about the significance of the new Regents Learning Standards and requirements for high school graduation. The three agreed that the new standards include the basic skills and knowledge that all students need to be prepared for work, further education and participation in a democracy. Commissioner Mills stated, "it is of absolutely critical importance that all students have these skills." The three witnesses struck a much different note than attorneys for the State did on this issue. In their opening statement, the state Attorney General's office argued that New York's new standards are "aspirational goals" – lofty ideals but not a standard the state is legally required to fund.
- Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor at Stanford University and Executive Director of the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, responded to a specific inquiry posed by Justice Leland DeGrasse by analyzing the skills students need to be able to vote and serve on a jury. In its 1995 ruling in CFE v. State, New York's highest court issued a preliminary definition of a "sound basic education" that emphasized these skills. Dr. Darling-Hammond noted that these key responsibilities of citizens in a democracy require the ability to reason about evidence, evaluate opinions and analyze of data, skills that the Regents' Learning Standards help students develop.
- Hamilton Lankford, Professor of Economics at SUNY Albany, presented groundbreaking evidence that teachers in New York City are not nearly as qualified as those in the rest of the state. He testified that 14% of New York City's teachers are uncertified. Moreover, nearly one-third of those teaching in a New York City public school today who took the basic Liberal Arts and Sciences certification test in recent years failed that test at least once. In the rest of the state, only 4.7% of teachers who took the same test failed it. The report also found that those students with the greatest educational needs are usually taught by the least-skilled teachers.
- Frederick Salerno, CFO for Bell Atlantic and former Chair of New York's Temporary Commission on State Education Finance, discussed the need to better prepare students for the workforce. He noted that rapid changes in technology have increased the educational demands placed on all of his company's employees, and the company has found it difficult to find a sufficient number of adequately prepared public school graduates. Remarkably, attorneys for the State objected to questions about schools' ability to prepare students for employment, claiming such questions are "legally irrelevant" to a sound basic education.
Can additional resources make a real difference in the success of our students? A number of prominent national experts addressed this question, and they provided compelling evidence that more money, well spent, can have a direct and dramatic effect on student achievement.
- Ronald Ferguson of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government presented compelling evidence linking better qualified teachers, teacher salaries, and higher student performance. He also argued that highly qualified teachers can help a student overcome other obstacles to success. While factors like poverty and parents' education levels are often linked with low achievement, said Dr. Ferguson, the effect of excellent teachers can be so strong that it compensates for other factors and helps disadvantaged students achieve at high levels.
- Dr. David Grissmer, a senior researcher at the RAND corporation, presented dramatic empirical evidence linking standards-based reforms and adequate resources to significant jumps in the test scores of at-risk children. Dr. Grissmer stated his findings plainly: "Where we have devoted additional resources, particularly to minority and disadvantaged children, we have gotten significant payoff in higher achievement." Dr. Grissmer also testified that targeting money to reduce class size in the elementary grades is the most effective way to improve student performance.
- This testimony echoed the statements of Jeremy Finn, professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and a national expert on class size. Dr. Finn described the significant benefits of small classes, especially in the early grades, as demonstrated by the landmark STAR study in Tennessee, the most comprehensive study of class size ever conducted. The STAR study demonstrated that students placed in small classes from kindergarten to third grade – especially poor and minority students – show lasting gains in their educational achievement.
- Dr. Finn's data, however, also showed that thousands of New York City students have virtually no chance to reap this benefit. More than half of K-3 students in NYC are in classes of more than 26 students, while the statewide average is 21. Nearly 80% of 4th and 5th grade classes in the City have more than 26 students, and half the classes in grades 6-8 have over 30 students.
- Dr. Henry Levin, Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, testified about the alarming problem of high school drop-outs in New York. He noted that in the mid-1990s, New York City's dropout rate was three times the national average. Dr. Levin also discussed the enormous personal and societal costs of dropping out of high school. He testified that the average male drop-out will earn 21% less than the average high school graduate. The average drop-out will also earn 50% less than the average college graduate, a fact that reflects the growing demands of today's workplace. Dr. Levin also examined the social costs of the enormous drop-out population – including lost income, lower tax revenues, welfare payments and crime – and estimated that society would receive a return of $6 for every additional dollar invested in educating at-risk children.
New York's School Finance "Formula" is Regularly Manipulated by the Legislature
The testimony of multiple witnesses has bolstered CFE's long-standing claim that the so-called state aid "formula" is really a political deal, orchestrated by the Governor and the legislative leaders.
- Interim Schools Chancellor and former Regent Harold Levy testified about legislative manipulation of the state aid formula. He reviewed over 10 years of school funding allocations and found that almost every year, New York City received precisely 38.86% of any funding increase. This fixed share was given regardless of the City's student needs, wealth, enrollment or attendance rates.
- Dr. Robert Berne, Vice President for Academic Development at New York University and a leading national expert on school funding, described the inadequacy and ineffectiveness of New York State's education finance system. Dr. Berne confirmed Chancellor Levy's testimony about New York City's fixed 38.86% share of state aid increases, and he noted that unlike most other major urban districts nationwide, New York City spends less than the statewide average. Dr. Berne also criticized the current funding formula because it does not sufficiently account for student needs, does not account for regional costs or a district's ability to raise funds, and is not aligned with New York State's own Learning Standards.
- In his testimony, Dr. Berne also relied on reports by State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, which were admitted into evidence over the strong objections of State attorneys. In one report, the Comptroller stated: "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."
- Over the objections of State attorneys, Judge Leland DeGrasse admitted a sensitive State Education Department report into evidence. The Report, prepared by the SED's Fiscal Analysis and Services Unit, concluded that the current funding formula is highly inequitable and that New York City is inequitably funded to "an alarming degree." Under one analysis in the report, the City's current shortfall is approximately $1.46 billion a year, or $1,114 per pupil.
- State defendants have sought to block the testimony of several people knowledgeable about the legislature's process of allocating funds for education. The State has appealed a decision that would compel Budget Director Robert King and Chief Budge Examiner Charles Foster to give depositions on videotape. Initially, CFE had moved to depose Governor Pataki, who opposed the deposition and instead designated Mr. King and Mr. Foster to speak on his behalf. Defendants have also filed an appeal seeking to block the testimony of Stephen Allinger, Executive Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the New York City Board of Education, who formerly served as the State Assembly's Deputy Budget Director. Previously, Mr. Allinger submitted a detailed witness statement which confirmed Dr. Berne's analysis and described in detail how decisions on education funding are manipulated by the legislature.
Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
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 >