After an extensive analysis of 33 high-needs schools in New York, the Campaign for Educational Equity, based at Teachers College, Columbia University, released two reports this month that reveal New York is failing to provide all students a constitutionally mandated adequate education. Executive Director of the Campaign, Michael Rebell, says that “on a pervasive, statewide basis, kids are not getting what the constitution says that they’re entitled to.” Essential Resources, Executive Summary of Deficient Resources, and Deficient Resources.
In 2003, Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York, New York’s highest court held that the state’s constitution requires it provide all students the opportunity for a “sound basic education” that would prepare them for civic participation and competitive employment. Despite the CFE ruling, schools have seen their budgets shrink as lawmakers respond to the current economic climate. In absence of a framework to assess whether the massive cuts in educational funding in recent years have deprived students of the specific resources and services that the Court of Appeals indicated were constitutionally required – neither the governor, the legislature nor the Regents have established such a framework – the Campaign’s first report draws on relevant judicial holdings, state statutes, and commissioner’s regulations to set forth an operational definition for what a “sound basic education” means. Essential Resources focuses on services in eight specific areas to which students are constitutionally entitled:
Qualified teachers, principals, and other personnel
Suitable, up-to-date curricula
An expanded platform of services for “at-risk” students
Adequate resources for students with extraordinary needs (students with disabilities and English language learners)
Class size and instructional groupings
Instrumentalities of learning
Safe and orderly environment
Adequate and accessible facilities
The second report, Deficient Resources, documents the availability — or, as it turns out in most areas, the unavailability — of these essential resources in 33 high-needs schools in New York State, including elementary, middle, and high schools in all five New York City boroughs and in seven other rural, suburban and urban districts in all geographic areas of the state. Through interviews and in-depth analysis of these schools, researchers at the Campaign exposed the alarming extent to which New York has denied its most vulnerable students the opportunity to receive a college- and career-ready education. For example, 13 schools reported that they were not providing sufficient instruction to meet the minimum state requirements in science, and out of the 12 high schools in the sample, 11 did not provide college readiness counseling and supports. None of the schools provided the required academic support services for students who fall short of the state’s proficiency standards.
The authors of the report conclude that:
Since the “state” is constitutionally responsible for this tragic situation, the governor, the legislature, and the Regents need to respond promptly and aggressively to meet the students’ critical educational needs…The state authorities have respected their constitutional obligation to balance the state budget, but, at the same time, they have grossly neglected their equally obligatory constitutional duty to ensure that all students are provided the opportunity for a sound basic education.
The report recommends specific actions that the Regents, the governor and the legislature need to take to come into constitutional compliance. The Campaign held two major conferences this month, one in Albany and one in Manhattan, during which participants discussed the findings as well as strategies for promoting constitutional compliance.