The New York State budget provides an unprecedented windfall for New York City schools — an additional $1.3 billion — but no one should consider it a gift. A sizable chunk of that money constitutes a long overdue commitment to Foundation Aid, the part of the budget that goes to high-needs districts in New York City. Sixteen years ago, a state court ordered the state to provide this money to the city's schoolchildren.
Robert Jackson, now a state senator, was a community board president and public school parent in 1993 when he founded the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and sued New York City, arguing that the state formula for allocating funds for public education grossly shortchanged children in New York City. The lawsuit contended that the funding shortfall violated New York City students' right under the state constitution to "a sound, basic education."
The UFT and education advocates did not let the state forget its responsibility. The union participated in actions and created an online calculator that its members could use to determine how much state money their school was owed. Jackson twice walked 150 miles to Albany from his Manhattan home to keep attention focused on the issue.
The pace of change was slow. Not until 2003 did the state appeals court rule in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. But state legislators could not agree on a formula that would do right by the city's neediest students. A special panel appointed by the state appeals court recommended an additional $5.5 billion a year for city schools. But the economic recession of 2008 put that idea on the back burner. And there it languished — until now.
The new state budget commits to fully funding Foundation Aid over the next three years. We must remain vigilant to ensure this level of education funding is maintained in the future. Our students deserve no less.