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Campaign for Fiscal Equity will push taxes, consult its lawyers

A point I didn’t make strongly enough about Governor Paterson’s proposed budget is that the plan would delay, by four years, the cash infusion that was supposed to come as the settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. The terms of the settlement were that both the state and city agreed to pour an extra $5.4 billion into the city schools over four years.

Now that budget proposals are not only not following up on those increases but also cutting away from what was given last year, the group that filed the lawsuit in the first place — the Campaign for Fiscal Equity — is pushing back. The group will be lobbying the legislature hard to say no to Paterson’s budget. Their better idea for how to tackle the state’s giant deficit: tax the affluent, the proposal the Working Families Party has floated.

Helaine Doran, the campaign’s deputy director, said officials are also consulting with their lawyers. “We have no process of like, ‘Oh yes, we’re going back to court immediately,'” she said on the phone this afternoon. “You have to look at the numbers and figure it out. We have geniuses helping us.”

CFE will be joined by the teachers union in lobbying the legislature to make fewer cuts to the city school system. Randi Weingarten called the proposals “chilling” in a statement yesterday that estimated the overall impact to city schools — state and city cuts combined — at $1 billion.

Weingarten’s full response, plus a long press release from CFE and other education advocates who are joining them in fighting the budget cuts, are below.

Weingarten’s statement:

We know that the situation is daunting and appreciate Governor Paterson’s predicament. We are relieved that his budget acknowledges the need for new revenues, not just cuts. But while we understand that the struggling economy prevents us from moving forward as planned with monies won for students in the CFE lawsuit, New York State cannot move backward by making devastating cuts to schools that will affect the classroom. Kids did not create this crisis, and they should not bear the burden of it. Kids don’t get a second chance, and therefore we cannot turn back the clock.

We will work with the Governor and the Legislature in a productive way, championing a tripartite solution that includes a federal stimulus program as well as more progressive ways of revenue raising. We recognize some cuts are inevitable, but the magnitude of what is currently proposed is chilling. Between the loss of $645 million in expected school aid increases and more than $200 million in cuts, the New York City schools will receive $850 million less than promised. To make matters worse, the school system will have $660 million less than it would need to just maintain the present level of services. When we factor in proposed city cuts, we are looking at more than $1 billion in cutbacks, the most since the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s.

We will also fight hard on other issues, such as maintaining economic security and the professional tools we need like the teacher centers, which are a key professional development tool vital to the districts that saw a large growth in test scores. If we really want to help kids and eliminate the achievement gap, it would be a mistake to eliminate programs that have successful track records.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity and other groups’ statement, titled “Educating Our Children vs. Protecting the Wealthy”:

(Albany, NY) The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), Citizen Action of New York (CANY), the New York Immigration Coalition, New York City Coalition for Educational Justice, Education Voters and Advocates for Children of New York called Governor Paterson’s 2009 executive budget proposal unfair and unreasonable. The Governor’s budget cuts committed education funding by more than $2.5 billion. The Governor’s budget would deliver $698 million less in funding next school year than in the current year, but as the Governor’s own budget asserts the actual cut in committed school funding that will be used to close the state’s deficit is $2.5 billion. (2009-10 Executive Budget Briefing Book page 50).

The groups are calling for a balanced approach to closing the budget with options that include upwards of $5 billion in new revenue by increasing taxes on New Yorkers who earn at least $250,000 annually. The school aid cuts contained in the Governor’s proposal undermine the state’s constitutional obligation to substantially increase funding in under-funded and high needs school districts as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. The $2.5 billion proposed reduction in committed funding represents the largest proposed school aid cut in the history of the state.

“The governor has shifted the unbearable burden of closing the budget gap onto the shoulders of school children while sparing the wealthiest New Yorkers. Asking school children to sacrifice $2.5 billion in school funding to pay for the state’s deficit problems while requiring nothing from New York’s highest income earners is irresponsible,” said, Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education.

“Governor Paterson’s proposed education budget gets a failing grade. By cutting $2.5 billion from committed funding, and extending the CFE phase-in from four to eight years, he is turning back the clock on the state’s legislated obligation to keep the CFE promise. By refusing to propose progressive across the board revenue options, New York’s 15 year education budget deficit will now grow to 21 years, and the price will be paid by our neediest students. Simply put, the Governor is using bad arithmetic. The future of our neediest students and their constitutional rights must not be subtracted from our state’s budget,” said Geri D. Palast, Executive Director, Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

A poll released this week by the Working Families Party shows that 75% of New Yorkers oppose cuts to school aid and 75% support income tax hikes on those earning over $200,000. A second poll released by the Citizens Committee for Children of New York found that 77% of New Yorkers favored income tax hikes on those making over $250,000 as opposed to the property tax hikes that will result from cuts in state school aid.

“Cuts in school aid will not only harm children, they will also damage our state’s fragile economy. Our children’s future and our State’s economic future both require that we balance the budget by asking the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay their fair share, rather than cutting school aid. After years of under funding and delays, the state finally committed to reducing class size, investing in teacher quality, and expanding reading, math, after school, pre-school and English language learner programs. These budget cuts would undo these advancements and be a huge setback for students,” said Karen Scharff, Citizen Action of New York Executive Director.

The Governor’s budget proposal contains provisions to preserve the Contract for Excellence, a system of school district accountability enacted in 2007 that is tied to the new funding invested. While there is a slight reduction in the amount that is covered by individual school district Contracts for Excellence, the vast majority of funding that is currently invested in Contract programs will continue to be covered by the Contracts as a result of protections proposed by the Governor.

“Preserving the Contract for Excellence as the Governor has proposed is essential to ensuring that the vast majority funding invested in school reforms the past two years is not wasted,” said Easton. “Without legislative changes to protect the Contracts for Excellence, the money invested these past two years in smaller classes and educational reforms would be subject to no accountability.”

“The Contract for Excellence, the only accountability tool that ensures that the CFE dollars are invested in the neediest students in strategies that work–teacher quality, smaller classes, English Language Learner programs, middle and high school reform, and full day pre-k–must be protected,” said Palast. “Legislative changes similar to those proposed by the Governor are essential to continue the investments from the first two years, and to ensure that any new investments now and in future years are properly allocated. What’s more, the Contracts are the only means for tracking the dollars, determining the impact on student achievement, and whether, at the end of the day, every public school child receives their constitutionally protected sound basic education. ”

“Here in Albany we’ve just begun to move forward with continued advancements in teacher quality initiatives and extended day programs. There are still improvements that need to be made and these cuts will stifle our progress and immediately affect the quality of education our students are receiving. We cannot balance our budget on the backs of our children,” said Ivette Alfonso, Capital District AQE board member.

“The law has already spoken when it comes to providing funding for a quality education for our kids. With the unprecedented win of the CFE lawsuit, and the further monetary award that provides New York City school kids with a chance for a quality education, it is perfectly clear that our governor intends to break the law, and rob our kids of their opportunity to get a quality education. The answer is not to rob our kids, but to make the wealthiest NYer’s give their fair share to balance the budget,” Ocynthia Williams, Parent Leader with the New York City Coalition for Educational Justice.

“The Governor is attempting to balance the budget by over burdening hard working families and cutting school aid and other critical services while not asking New York’s highest income earners to pay their fair share. We can and must do better to create a future that prepares our children for success in the knowledge economy of the 21st century,” said Glynda Carr, Education Voters Executive Director.

“We’re particularly concerned about the most at-risk kids in the system, such as students with disabilities, English language learners, or students in foster care. These are the kids who tend to be hurt first when budgets start contracting,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director, Advocates for Children of New York.

“These cuts will be devastating for our most at-risk students. Even as immigrant and English-language-learner graduation rates continue to plummet, the Governor chose to slash education funding, making a desperate situation even worse,” said Jose Davila, director of state government affairs with the New York Immigration Coalition.


The following is an excerpt from the 2009-10 Executive Budget Briefing Book:

“Overall, the Executive Budget provides $20.7 billion for School Aid in 2009-10, a decrease of $698 million or 3.3 percent from 2008-09. Even after this reduction, School Aid will have increased $6.2 billion or 42 percent compared to 2003-04. Without these actions, total 2009-10 School Aid funding was projected to total $23.2 billion, $2.5 billion higher than the Executive Budget proposal.”

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