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.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed by President Obama on December 10, 2015, reauthorizing President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The previous version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act, enacted by President Bush in 2002, sparked controversy regarding federal overreach, high-stakes testing and harsh accountability measures, but also provided disaggregated information regarding student achievement by demographics such as race, gender, and English language proficiency. According to ed.gov, the goal with ESSA was to “create a better law that focused on the clear goal of fully preparing all students for success in college and careers.” The law first and foremost provides states with more latitude when it comes to education policy. On October 5, 2016, the Schott Foundation was joined by Topeka Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tiffany Anderson and California State Board of Education President Dr. Michael Kirst for a webinar, “Protecting an Opportunity to Learn Through ESSA State Accountability Plans,” to discuss how schools can use ESSA as a tool to improve public education.
They were selling – and fast.
When Diana Kane English noticed how quickly her new line of gold-lettered “Feminist” t-shirts was flying off the shelves of her Park Slope boutique, she was stunned. Her inspiration for creating them, after all, was born of a typical designer frustration: “I wanted one, and Googling wasn’t turning up what I wanted.”
Her first shipment sold out in two days, and, months later, her shop is still buzzing. “The excitement just keeps growing,” says Diana. “People are buying them for themselves, their girlfriends, sisters, kids, mothers – even husbands.”
Why are advocates walking from New York City to Albany?
In 2006, New York State’s highest court ruled on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) school funding lawsuit. The CFE lawsuit was brought by parents against the State of New York claiming that children were not being provided an opportunity to receive an adequate education.
The Schott Foundation was among the first to fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in the mid-1990s which sparked a movement — and a victory. In 2006 the Court of Appeals ruled in CFE’s favor and found that New York State had violated students' constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by depriving schools of needed funding. The Court ordered the NY Legislature to distribute $5.5 billion in basic operating aid (also known as Foundation Aid) to schools statewide over a four-year period, from 2007 to 2011.
Yet — ten years later — New York still owes its children $3.9 billion in Foundation Aid, most of which is owed to districts with high percentages of students of color. The state has only allocated $2.3 billion in Foundation Aid to schools thus far due to funding freezes during the fiscal crisis and further cuts to school aid.
The school-to-prison pipeline has been prominent in the education debate for the past several years, and youth, parents, teachers, and communities across the country have put questions of school discipline, restorative justice and implicit bias at the heart of their organizing work. On September 1, Center for Policing Equity (CPE) Cofounder and President Dr. Phillip A. Goff joined us for a webinar, moderated by our President Dr. John H. Jackson, to unpack the latest research and insights on policing and implicit bias in schools.
Lilo J. Leeds was a passionate champion for equity.
No doubt this resolve was instilled in her as a young girl when her family escaped Nazi Germany. Lilo often spoke of how she fled Nazi Germany and the painful signs that dictated NO JEWS, only to land in France with signs that read NO GERMANS, and finally arrived in the United States to a Jim Crow culture of “No Coloreds.”
Lilo and her late husband Gerry Leeds, who also had to flee Germany, were able to start promising new lives for themselves and their children in this country.
Her tenacity was critical in all the family’s business ventures and their abiding devotion to social justice, including their work fighting for equitable and quality education for all. Lilo had a passion for supporting the rights of all children to have access to a high quality public education regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or zip code.
How far would you go to ensure that your child has the right to a great public education? Would you risk your health? One year ago, 12 community members in South East Chicago did just that. After exhausting all other options in attempts to reopen Walter H. Dyett High School, National Director of Journey for Justice Alliance, Jitu Brown, led a hunger strike with 11 other community members that lasted for 34 days. Yes, you read that right, 34 days!
Over the past decade, philanthropy has become increasingly responsive to the needs of young boys and men of color. The philanthropic community has mobilized to coordinate and partner on efforts like the Obama administration's My Brother's Keeper initiative. More recently, the field has turned its attention to addressing the needs of girls and young women of color. While I applaud these efforts, I'm reminded daily of the pressing and unmet needs of Native communities. And that invariably causes me to think about how much more needs to be done to ensure that all youth — regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender — have equal access to quality education and health care and the opportunity to grow up in safe and thriving communities.
Netroots Nation [link] is 10 years old, and over the past decade has become a preeminent gathering point for people at the intersections of progressive politics, social change, and technology. As such, it’s been interesting to watch various aspects of the conference shift — from keynote speakers, to panel topics, to vendors — as the larger progressive movement has shifted.
Nowhere is that more stark than education. Writers like Jeff Bryant point out how for many years, education wasn’t even on the radar of many progressive activists and organizations — and when it was, they would usually gravitate to the well-funded outreach of corporate reform outfits like Students First and Stand for Children.
What will it take to ensure that all children have an opportunity to learn, regardless of their background or which school they attend? This is the question we discussed during our latest webinar, “Strategies for Lifting All Children Up," part of Schott Foundation’s Grassroots Education Series on July 28.
During the webinar, Executive Director Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center and Executive Director Taryn Ishida of Californians for Justice discussed the importance of systemic reforms, not just school-centric reforms, when working to close the opportunity gap — and both are urgently needed.
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