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Wendy Lecker: Give Schools the Resources They Need

In the landmark case, Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State(“CFE”), New York’s highest court ruled that children in this state are constitutionally entitled to a “sound basic education:” one that provides them with the skills to “function productively as civic participants.”  The Court of Appeals defined “functioning productively as civic participants” as being able to vote and serve on a jury capably and knowledgeably, and being able to obtain competitive employment.  It further ruled that in order to meet this constitutional standard, schools must have adequate resources.

The CFE decision provides two important lessons for current education policy. First, while the Common Core focuses exclusively on “college and career readiness,” New York’s Constitutional standard is more comprehensive. A “sound basic education” is also one that develops responsible and capable citizens.  Our educational policy must embrace both goals: citizenship and gainful employment.

Furthermore, as the Court recognized, standards do not deliver themselves.  Any discussion of standards is meaningless without consideration of the resources required to enable children to meet them.  The CFE trial was an examination of those resources necessary to provide a “sound basic education.”  They include: small class size in the early grades, a sufficient number of qualified and well-prepared teachers, additional resources for children with extraordinary needs, an appropriate curriculum, adequate facilities, and sufficient and up-to-date books, supplies, libraries, educational technology and laboratories.

While the Court did not discuss high-quality preschool, the evidence is clear, as the Ready paper notes, that without high-quality preschool, at-risk children start kindergarten well behind their peers who attended preschool, and that gap is almost impossible to make up.

Owing to the state's failure to live up to its constitutional obligation to fully fund New York's Foundation Aid Formula, New York City public school students acutely lack the very resources the Court in CFE deemed essential to a sound basic education. For example, class sizes are the largest in fourteen years.   

Moreover, a new IBO report reveals that our neediest students are being disproportionately harmed by resource deprivations.  Poor children and children of color are least likely to be in schools with libraries, art and music rooms, science, and AP classes. The segregation extends beyond resources.  African American and Latino students are disproportionately assigned to high schools with an overconcentration of high needs students; which diminishes their chances of graduating high school.

To ensure that all children in New York City are prepared for college, careers and citizenship, our leaders must provide resources commensurate with these expectations and guarantee equity of educational opportunity for every child.

Wendy Lecker is Senior Attorney of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), a project of the Education Law Center.