On the eve of what looks like an imminent vote by legislators to approve a state budget, two education advocates are asking Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to consider halting the process immediately. Their concern: That the current budget does not give enough of the stimulus dollars to needy districts like New York City.
The budget erases two years of planned increases in funds to New York City and other needy school districts, postponing them to the future. In a letter sent to Duncan yesterday, the groups, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education, also criticize the way the budget spreads out the state’s pot of federal education stimulus dollars, a $2.5 billion total, between the state’s school districts.
The call for Duncan’s intervention hinges on language in the stimulus law passed by Congress, which urges states to prioritize “equity and adequacy adjustments” passed in state laws when doling out their stimulus dollars to schools. The groups argue that New York’s budget “appears to be in violation” of that language.
The “adjustment” in question in New York is the extra $5.4 billion the state vowed in 2007 to send needy districts by 2011, part of the settlement of a decade-long lawsuit by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. So far, less than half (37.5%) of that money’s been doled out. But the current budget would erase the added funds that were planned for the next two fiscal years.
The groups are asking Duncan either to force New York lawmakers to dole out more of the stimulus funds to needy districts like New York City — or to require that the lawmakers write a plan for doing that next year. More of the details on what the groups would like to see Duncan do are in this letter, which they sent to Duncan yesterday.
The groups have some reason to think that the Obama administration will support their effort. Geri Palast, the executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said that she and other supporters of court-mandated increases in funding to public schools lobbied to put the language into the stimulus law that they are now using to defend their case. Palast served as an adviser to Obama on education during his transition.
She said she and other advocates had their eye on court settlements like New York’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity case when they pushed for the language. (At least a half-dozen other states have similar cases.)
“Now the secretary will have to make the decision about exactly how important that language is,” said Billy Easton, the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, the Albany-based group that is closely allied with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.