ALBANY, N.Y. (May 10, 2023) — Thirty years after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was filed and 16 years after the Foundation Aid formula was enacted, the 2023-24 New York State enacted budget, for the first time in its history, fully funds public schools.
For decades, this fight was spearheaded by generations of dedicated parents, community leaders and students in Black, brown and low-income communities. Year after year, AQE led the advocacy to hold New York to the promise of a sound, basic education for every child. AQE leaders and coalition partners put their bodies and hearts into this difficult, but necessary fight, often in the face of little progress or setbacks. But they persevered, and ultimately succeeded.
The fight to hold the State to its obligation to fund public education has always been deeply steeped in racial justice. The majority of Foundation Aid was due to school districts with 40 percent or more Black and Latinx students. The full funding of Foundation Aid represents a major step toward racial and economic equity in education.
This has been a long fight, tens of thousands of students were born, educated and grew into adults, denied their constitutional right to a sound basic education.
It all began in Washington Heights, where, in 1993, 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 City’s low income Black and Brown children. Now a State Senator, Robert Jackson started out as a parent wanting the best for his children’s future, and he has brought the same dedication and passion to Albany where he continues to fight for every child in New York as if they were his own.
After more than 10 years CFE went to the highest court for a legal victory in the 2006 decision. The initial promise of a phase-in of Foundation Aid was interrupted by state budget cuts, followed by several more years of tepid investment under the Cuomo administration. Governor Cuomo used a variety of excuses and tactics to deny that the state had any legal obligation to fund Foundation Aid, and repeatedly overrode the State Legislature’s support for funding schools. Consequently, under Governor Cuomo, education inequity ballooned as the wealthy districts continued investing local dollars in their students while poor districts were pinched by State miserliness. In 2021, with Governor Cuomo in a position of political weakness just months before his resignation, New York State at last committed to a 3-year phase-in of Foundation Aid.
Today, New York’s school districts are still grappling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with one-time federal aid running out, the essential programs that have been funded with those dollars will need to be picked up by the state. The state’s infusion of resources, equitably distributed through the Foundation Aid formula, will help enable New York’s students to thrive. These resources have the potential to change the experiences and opportunities our children have in their public schools for years to come.
“The fight to fully fund our public schools spans the entirety of my career in public service, and is also deeply rooted in our Democratic Conference’s values. It was our own Senator Robert Jackson who served as the lead plaintiff on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit–the case which finally held the state accountable to our children. I was proud to champion this issue from my first Senate campaign for office, all the way up to the moment we fully funded Foundation Aid in this year’s budget. This has been a long and hard fight, and proves that the right thing doesn’t always come easily. I am extremely proud of all this will do on behalf of New York’s children, and the potential it will unleash for future generations,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Senator Robert Jackson said, “I have always valued public education as a tool that uplifts all people; it is a right every child deserves. As a parent, education advocate, and lead plaintiff in the CFE lawsuit, I have dedicated my life to fighting for this right. With the full funding of the Foundation Aid formula in New York State, we have taken a significant step forward in creating a more equitable society where every child has access to the resources they need to succeed regardless of their background or zip code. This victory is not just for us, but for future generations who will benefit from a brighter and more inclusive future.”
“AQE is proud to be a leader in the decades-long advocacy effort to fully fund New York’s public schools, an effort that has always been spearheaded by the dedication of parents and students in Black, Brown and low-income communities. 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. We continue to be committed to the fight for adequately funded and racially just public schools. The goal of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and funding the Foundation Aid formula was to give our schools a boost, and raise the state’s funding up to the minimum level required for every child to get a ‘sound, basic education.’ Now, we can turn the page to begin the work to carry educational justice forward,” said Jasmine Gripper, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education.
“This victory shows what can be accomplished when advocates, parents, elected officials, and public education supporters maintain pressure on lawmakers to fulfill their constitutional obligation,” said Robert Kim, Executive Director of Education Law Center. “A win in court is often just the first step on what is often a long road to justice. ELC applauds AQE; public school parent, CFE lead plaintiff and Senator Robert Jackson; and all the parents and activists across New York State for never giving up the fight to transform the constitutional promise of a sound basic education for all New York’s children into a legislative reality.”
“As a proud public school graduate and parent, I know firsthand that our public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy. I first joined forces with AQE in the fight for education justice when my eldest child was in kindergarten. In the 20+ years since I have stood with parents and students coming to Albany to demand the money our schools need—especially schools in Black, Brown and poor communities. I am proud to have been part of the long-fought collective effort that brought us to this moment of fully funding our public schools. I sincerely hope that our leaders remain committed to preserving this vital funding for many years to come,” said Cynthia Nixon, actor, public school parent and AQE spokesperson.
“This is a victory not just for New York, but for the entire country. This budget is a landmark victory for the children of New York. But more than that, it is a validation of the theory of change that we and our grantee partners have always held: lasting change happens when those closest to the problem get closest to the power and are resourced for the long haul. Schott was founded at the beginning of this 30-year battle. We were at the strategy table and an early funder as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and now the Alliance for Quality Education organized to secure equitable funding for New York schools, particularly the schools in low-income communities, attended predominantly by children of color. The innovative multi-sector strategy — combining neighborhood-level base building, statewide coordination, policy advocacy and legal interventions — is a model that has inspired community advocates across the country over the last three decades,” said John H. Jackson, President and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
“Having entered my first New York City school as a volunteer tutor in the 1980s, I am gratified to see that all the efforts to improve these schools over the last forty years have been voted this past week by the New York State legislature. For the first time, it agreed to fully fund Foundation Aid after many years of financial and political excuses. Having participated as advocates and writers of an amicus brief in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, the League of Women Voters, for which I serve as Education Finance specialist, applauds this achievement. However, we must remain vigilant as the equity and adequacy of school aid is a standard prone to rapid erosion. We must ensure that as federal aid decreases, state funding for analysis of the Foundation Aid formula is still lacking, and controversies such as that over charter schools persist, we should not clap too loudly. But for this week, we celebrate,” said Marian A. Bott, Ed.D., Education Finance Specialist, League of Women Voters of New York State.
“I first got involved in the fight for Foundation Aid after seeing the disparities first hand in my childrens’ classrooms in Schenectady. Now, after countless voices, my own lawsuit against NYS, and more than 10 years of time, our schools finally are getting the resources that they should have had all along. It never should have taken so long, and there is more work to do. But this moment marks a major victory in the long fight for educational and racial justice, and will be transformative for Schenectady’s students and for children around the state,” said Jamaica Miles, Schenectady School Board Member, parent, and plaintiff in the school funding lawsuit NYSER v. The State of New York.