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Boro awaits court action in school funding reform

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The one-year anniversary of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision passed last week without a ruling from an appellate court on whether Gov. George Pataki must reconfigure the funding formula for schools in New York City and the state’s four other largest cities.

The state’s arcane school funding formula, which many critics say is governed by backroom deals, was challenged on Jan. 10, 2001 when State Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse sided in favor of the nonprofit Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The Manhattan coalition of parents and advocacy groups filed suit against the state in 1993 with strong support from Queens.

Pataki, who is running for re-election this year, quickly appealed DeGrasse’s decision and sent the case crawling through the courts. The appeal went before a five-judge State Supreme Court Appellate Division panel in October and no decision has yet been issued.

In his Jan. 9 State of the State address, Pataki declared his commitment to simplifying the state’s school financing system but through his own “Flex Aid” plan. Pataki also reiterated his stance last week in favor of mayoral control of public education in the state’s “Big Five” school districts — New York, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Yonkers.

On its web site, www.cfequity.org, Campaign for Fiscal Equity Executive Director Michael Rebell urged the governor to convene a statewide summit to develop a new school funding formula.

“You promised reforms last year,” Rebell said in his statement. “Let this be the year that we finally see a fair funding formula put in place.”

CFE lawyers have often argued that the state’s current school funding is divided not through New York’s confusing, laborious formulas, but by the politics in Albany.

Though DeGrasse ordered the state Legislature to enact the reform by Sept. 15, 2001, Pataki’s appeal has significantly delayed the case.

Throughout most of the state, school districts generate a majority of their revenue through property taxes. In the state’s five biggest cities, the state determines how much money is given to run each city’s public schools. Educational needs, such as services required to help students learn to speak English or to meet the state’s new higher academic standards, are not considered in funding decisions.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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