Ensuring community accountability for new dollars

Winning the money was always only half the battle in the fight for education justice: for the $14 billion in new state and federal education funding to have the impact we want to see in schools, we must now fight to ensure that parent and community voices be part of the decision on how that funding is to be spent.

Our first step was to conduct a survey gathering feedback from over 1,000 respondents on how Black and Latinx families, students and educators would like to see local school districts invest the new funds. In June we released a report, titled “We Demand: How New York’s Communities Want to Use New Federal Aid to Public Schools,” summarizing the results of the survey. The top five priorities that were identified, selected from a list of allowable uses of the new federal funding, were 1) to provide more mental health support, 2) lower class sizes, 3) set up and maintain strong technology access for every student, 4) invest in broader school infrastructure, and 5) offer high quality summer learning programs.

School districts were required under the American Rescue Plan Act to have their plans for the federal funding posted on their websites by July 1st, 2021. Once all the districts’ plans were out publicly, the next step for AQE was to make sure those plans were appropriate to meet the needs identified by communities. To help facilitate that process, AQE created one-page analyses summarizing the good and bad parts of each of the Big 5 school districts’ plans, with next steps for how community members and families could give districts feedback.

Legal Update: Court Settlement Locks In NY’s Commitment To Increase School Funding

Following the New York Legislature’s commitment to fully fund the state’s Foundation Aid Formula, a settlement has been reached in the NYSER v. State school finance lawsuit to lock in that commitment and ensure students receive the $4.2 billion increase in school funding by the 2023-24 school year.

The NYSER case was filed in 2014 by parents, statewide organizations, and community groups to compel New York State to fulfill its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public schools. The case focused on the Schenectady and New York City school districts and, after lengthy pre-trial and discovery proceedings, was moving toward a trial on the merits.

In the settlement, the NYSER plaintiffs and the State agreed to put the case on hold on the condition that the State honor its commitment to phase in the $4.2 billion required to reach full funding of the Foundation Aid Formula. Should the State fail to follow through, the settlement allows the plaintiffs to immediately restart the case in its current posture and move quickly to a trial.

The fight for racial and education justice does not stop here, and we look forward to moving into a new chapter to ensure every child in New York receives a high quality education. Click to read AQE’s statement and Governor Hochul’s statement responding to the settlement.
freedom summer

Child care & pre-K: Legislative session and listening tour

This year’s state budget will expand access to child care subsidies, decrease parent costs for child care, equalize subsidy eligibility requirements throughout the State and expand Universal Pre- Kindergarten. As part of the Empire State Campaign on Child Care, Winning Beginning NY and Ready for College Ready for Kindergarten, AQE worked to implement an outside strategy putting pressure on electeds, as well as an inside strategy working with our champions to finally be able to win this victory for our youngest New Yorkers:

  • Thousands of low-income working families who are desperate for access to child care subsidies can come off of waitlists and enroll their children in high-quality affordable early childhood education and school-age child care programs;
  • The cost of child care will decline for even more working families;
  • An expanded early childhood Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS), Quality Stars NY will help more programs improve and implement best practices;
  • Child care providers that were forced to close doors due to the economic impacts of the pandemic, and those still open, but struggling, will have access to up-front stabilization grants; and
  • Universal Pre-Kindergarten classrooms will expand throughout New York State.
    None of these victories would have been possible without the engagement of early education providers, parents and community members, as well as young people and advocates.

Child care listening tour

Through November 24, AQE is joining Senator Jabari Brisport for a statewide child care listening tour to hear directly from child care providers and parents in our communities. Due to decades of treating and funding child care as a private service rather than vital public infrastructure, New York’s child care industry is in a state of crisis. Along the tour we have been hearing firsthand from providers and parents how this crisis has impacted our communities.

Freedom Summer: Building a new cohort of parent leaders

In August, AQE convened its second cohort running of Freedom Summer, a parent leadership training program in the tradition of Black August. Freedom Summer was created by Asamia Diaby, AQE’s New York City Campaigns Associate, as a month-long political education experience to build a strong contingent of parent leaders who are committed to education justice. The weekly topics covered racial justice, racial capitalism, gender justice, disability justice, and all their intersections in working toward education for liberation.

And this we month kicked of our fourth cohort of the Education Warriors program. Program participants receive in-depth training on a wide range of topics including community organizing, facilitation skills, social media for advocacy work, the political landscape and policies in New York State and New York City that impact public schools, public speaking, and more.

Celebrating our victories and honoring our champions

AQE joined Senator Robert Jackson for an Education Justice Block Party on Saturday, August 14th, to celebrate the $4 billion in additional funding included in this year’s state budget for New York State’s public schools. The event was held where it all began in Washington Heights, where, in 1992, Robert Jackson and other parents filed the original Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against New York—kicking off the decades-long fight for adequate and equitable resources for New York’s low income Black and Brown children.

It was a family affair with music, food, games, performances, and fun activities for all ages. We were pleased to be joined by allies old and new in this fight, including many parent leaders and graduates from the Ed Warriors program, Cynthia Nixon, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, NYC Department of Education Chancellor Meisha Ross-Porter, Manhattan Bureau President Gale Brewer and Quantel Bazemore, Deputy District Director, for Rep. Jamaal Bowman, as well as many others.

And on Wednesday, October 27 we held our ninth annual Champions of Education celebration, where we honored the accomplishments of Dr. Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, neuroscientist, parent leader, and organizer; Johanna Garcia, Parent, community leader, activist and Chief of Staff to Senator Robert Jackson; and the Resistance Revival Chorus.

Publications & Announcements

We published the findings of our community survey on accountability for new state and federal dollars in “We Demand: How New York’s Communities Want to Use New Federal Aid to Public Schools.”

To help parents weigh in as districts planned how to spend the new funding, we created regional fact sheets breaking down how each plan measured up to demands, with next steps on how to engage local school leaders and community members.

AQE was honored at the Midwest Academy Awards…

Zakiyah Ansari was honored at Citizen Action’s Our Everyday Heroes Awards…

…and she and Jasmine Gripper were also featured in PoliticsNY’s Power Players in Education in October.

Press Spotlight

Zakiyah Ansari is featured in Spike Lee’s HBO docuseries NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½, during which she talks about educational inequity during COVID-19.

Jasmine Gripper talked with News 12 about continuing racial disparities in student engagement and learning as schools reopened this fall.

City & State reports on the effort AQE and New York City communities are making to ensure new education funding is spent on the things that matter to students and families.

This report from WAMC Public Radio details the community survey we put together to assess community needs ahead of the deadline for school districts to post their spending plans.

Outlets statewide, including the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, the Albany Times Union, and the Jamestown Post-Journal, reported on the state’s settlement of the NYSER lawsuit.