NY Advocates Walk 150 Miles for Equity

In 2003, parents and advocates marched 150 miles from New York City to Albany to herald a court case that claimed New York State was failing to provide quality education to public school students. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and the state committed to allocating $5.5 billion distributed throughout the state’s public school districts. This is when the story should have ended, but it didn’t.

$3.9 billion is still owed to New York State public schools. And that is why this October – ten years after that first court hearing – parents and advocates have made the same walk again. Another 150 miles from New York City to the steps of the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, fighting for educational funding long overdue.

It began in 1993 with a group of parents. They launched the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), which sued New York State for “failing to provide students with the quality education that is their right under the New York State Constitution.” Ten years later, in 2003, the case had finally reached the New York State Court of Appeals – the state’s highest court. In 2006, the court ruled that the state was failing to provide students with the classroom resources necessary to receive a “sound, basic education.” Consequently, the state adopted the Foundation Aid formula, and committed to adding $5.5 billion in basic classroom operating aid over four years to all state school districts. An initial $2.3 billion was allocated, but subsequent funding froze during the financial crisis and has yet to resume.

As most public education funding in New York state comes from property taxes, districts in low-income communities especially need Foundation Aid to ensure that all children have the resources and opportunities they need to succeed, regardless of their ZIP code. The financial crisis and housing crash hit the tax base of low-income districts the hardest. While it is easy for policymakers to think of education funding as simply numbers on a ledger, every year that goes by without the promised Foundation Aid means thousands of children who are denied the education they deserve.

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) led the ten day, 150 mile walk (#EdWalk) this year, from October 2th to 11th. Robert Jackson was a lead plaintiff in the original 1993 Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. He walked in 2003, and again this year. At the start of this year’s walk on the steps of New York City’s Tweed Courthouse, Jackson proclaimed, “Our message to the governor and the state legislature is this: give us our money. Our children need a good education, and it takes money to do that.”

“This is ridiculous how often we have to stand on these steps,” AQE Advocacy Director Zakiyah Ansari said. “New York has lost an opportunity for greatness.”

150 miles and ten days later, the walkers arrived at the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, just like they did 13 years prior.

On the court steps, the walkers were welcomed with both cheers and tears. “I’m tired physically, but I’m not too tired for the struggle and the fight,” Ansari said. This time, she walked alongside 3 of her children – two of her daughters, now about to graduate from college, joined her in Albany in 2006 when they were 10 and 11 years old to hear the CFE verdict.

Schott Foundation President & CEO John H. Jackson spoke on the steps, as well: “They walked all the way here to encourage you to walk some resources into our schools. But if you all don’t listen to them, they will soon find a way to walk you out of your offices. We want the funding now.”

From all those in attendance the message was clear: they will not stop until New York State public schools receive the funding they are promised.

Emails and calls inviting Governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss the issue with AQE members and the walkers were met with silence, so the walk ended inside the State Capitol building, outside the governor’s office. Once again ignored, the walkers plastered invoices covering the governor’s office door stating “10 years past due.” Clearly, no one is giving up until public schools receive the Foundation Aid funding their students so desperately need.

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