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Tectonic shift as Campaign for Fiscal Equity exits New York

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the advocacy organization whose historic, years-long lawsuit brought increased funding to the New York City schools, is closing its doors — at least in its current format, The New York Times reported this afternoon.

The organization’s last employee, Executive Director Helaine Doran, will leave at the end of the month because the group has run out of funding, the Times reports.

The development comes despite the fact that the dollars won by the group’s lawsuit have fallen far short of what was promised in a settlement between the group and the state in 2007.

The Times is right to describe the development as part of a greater shift in the way that philanthropists think about education advocacy, one that has made groups like former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee’s Students First active in New York City while the Campaign for Fiscal Equity struggled. The old mantra was that urban districts failed because they have been historically under-funded; now, advocates are more likely to argue that funding is necessary but not sufficient. (Another budget watchdog, the Educational Priorities Panel, dissolved in 2007, also due to a loss of funding.)

But it’s also possible that the dissolution of CFE could actually signal a renaissance of its original efforts: litigation aimed at forcing New York to spend more on needy school districts.

In recent years, employees at CFE had gone to Albany, not to the courts, to lobby for more funding to schools. That could now change as one of the strongest litigation groups working on school finance issues, the New Jersey-based Education Law Center, considers taking over where CFE left off.

The Education Law Center’s most recent victory came last month, when courts ordered Governor Chris Christie to spend an additional $500 million on needy school districts in the state next year.

“It’s really exciting that the Education Law Center is exploring how they can be involved with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity,” said Billy Easton, the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. The Alliance was formed to operate as a lobbying and organizing counterpart to CFE, and CFE representatives sat on AQE’s board, Easton said.

He said of the Education Law Center, “This is an organization with a 30-year history of repeated successful lawsuits on school funding.”

Doran did not respond to a request for comment tonight.