CSA Continues To Fight To Reform Fair Student Funding
City’s Funding Boost is a Much Needed Start
By Mark Cannizzaro
Since 2012, CSA has been fighting hard — at City Council meetings and in the media – to reform Fair Student Funding. We have been noting the Orwellian use of the word “fair” in this formula while railing against its uneven application. We have often pointed out that too many principals have spent their summers begging for desperately needed dollars, when they could have been courting great new teachers and planning the school year.
As I made my way through the snow from CSA’s Rector Street headquarters to City Hall on March 23, I was not expecting my plea this year for truly Fair Student Funding to result in immediate, concrete change. Because of the weather and the late hour, there wasn’t even much of a crowd. I started by explaining how FSF penalizes schools for having empty seats for various reasons involving DOE requirements that are completely outside the control of the principal. And when the DOE’s own register projections don’t pan out, the school is left to foot the bill.
I also pointed out that the formula often back- res because it assumes that teachers earn the “average” NYC teacher salary. Therefore, if a school has a majority of experienced teachers, earning significantly more than the average, that school’s discretionary spending can be reduced or even result in a de cit. The DOE charges the school for the cost of each teacher rather than, as they once did, charge all schools the citywide average. The deficits can be huge for schools that have high teacher salaries, less than 100% funding, and little or no Federal Title I funding.
Finally, I laid out how schools mandated to provide paraprofessionals based on an IEP mandated “formula” are not funded for the cost of the paraprofessional. In fact, a class that requires the services of a paraprofessional is funded identically to a special needs class that does not require a para. Schools with a large number of formula paraprofessionals are penalized the most.
Just as I have done for several years, I called for a more equitable funding formula and full funding for every school. In the past, we would receive commitments from the DOE, but of officials there would ultimately blame the state budget for not making good on them. This year, the DOE testified right before me that they would again be unlikely to increase school allocations because of the state budget.
We all know it is an uphill battle to change policy at this level, and while it’s easy to be discouraged, we’ve been determined to keep up the fight. It’s a good thing we were, too. This year the Council members were interested, armed with questions, and sympathetic to our position.
A month after my March testimony, I found myself standing at a City Hall press conference with the Mayor, the Chancellor, and our City Council partners to announce a permanent new $125 million investment in Fair Student Funding for public schools. It’s not close to all we need, but it’s a start, and a heck of a lot more than we had grown accustomed to. This time we had a City Council that was paying attention and made school funding its top priority, despite a difficult state budget. Two of the most prominent members, Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger and Finance Committee Chair Daniel Dromm, have walked in our shoes as educators and are still active in schools and listening to principals, assistant principals and teachers. New Council Speaker Corey Johnson has long been a staunch supporter of schools and a vocal advocate for justice in many arenas. We thank them for their advocacy and for prioritizing education. We also know that none of this would have worked without Mayor de Blasio, who has consistently vowed to put more resources into public schools and our new chancellor, Richard Carranza.
For now, we have an increase in FSF that lifts the floor to 90% and the average to 93%. Perhaps more importantly, we also got public commitments from our elected officials to continue working with us until there is true equity for all. The increase will reach 854 schools and provide resources that will make real differences in children’s lives.
Clearly, we still have much work to do to put the “fairness” in Fair Student Funding. To save our principals from those demeaning summer-long appeals that don’t always work and our children from less than adequate resources, we still have to shake the kinks out of the FSF formula and continue demanding that all schools are fully funded. I have specific recommendations for getting there and I invite you to read some of them in my column from 2016 and in even greater detail in my 2017 column. I think you might also be interested in my testimony before the Council on March 23. The columns and testimony are all posted online at www.csa-nyc.org.
Meanwhile, this victory improves educational opportunities for thousands of our children and fills me – and I hope you – with the energy to fight even harder for all the rest of them.
Mark Cannizzaro is president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.