To the Editor:
My observations on your article “Advocates Turn Out for N.Y. School Funding Case,” (Oct. 18, 2006) begin with its accompanying photograph of eight protestors, taken from inside a bus. (It looks as though the bus driver was asked to step into the frame.) Years ago, I attended one of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit presentations. I had heard on the radio that Michael A. Rebell, a CFE lawyer, would speak at a local high school auditorium prior to the court’s decision, and I made it a point to be there. Fewer than eight people (including nonsupporters of the suit) attended. Yet, the photo that appeared in the newspaper the next day made it seem that there was larger support.
Some time later, still before the court’s decision, a statewide ballot proposition providing for a specific dollar amount to be spent to improve New York’s public schools was soundly defeated. When asked how that would affect his pending lawsuit, Mr. Rebell famously suggested that voters obviously thought the dollar amount was too low.
When Judge Leland DeGrasse ultimately reached his decision, he didn’t create the new “equitable formula” that the plaintiffs were seeking. He went beyond that in actually awarding a specific amount in the billions of dollars, and ordered the state legislature to devise a formula to achieve it. He also made it clear that he was awarding the money to New York City only, but that hasn’t stopped an additional 16 small-city districts elsewhere in the state from demanding their own funding increases. It should be noted that our city school districts currently receive much more money than suburban and rural districts.
All New York school districts have received increases in the amount of money they receive from the state, as a result of Gov. George E. Pataki’s School Tax Relief, or STAR, program. It was designed to bring balance between the amount of money each district generated through local property taxes and the amount provided by state taxpayers at large. Throughout the governor’s tenure, the suburban district I reside in has spent tens of millions of state tax dollars. And, now that the improvements those dollars purchased have been achieved, our high school finds itself on the federal No Child Left Behind law’s list of schools “in need of improvement.”
Another aspect of the CFE lawsuit that needs examination is its invocation of the people’s “constitutional right” to a sound basic education. I know of no other constitutional right that requires mandatory participation or taxpayer funding. Think of how happy we would be with compulsory church attendance. Try compulsory voting, speech, or gun ownership at taxpayer expense as well. If faithfulness were to wane, would we demand more money for public churches, or is it remotely possible that the term “choice” would enter the debate?
David R. Crawmer
Capitol District Citizens for Educational Freedom
Castleton on Hudson, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2006 edition of Education Week as N.Y. School Funding Case: Misframing the Debate?