Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dear Carmen: CEC2 On Fair Student Funding (Unfair Teacher Funding)

Despite the former Chancellor’s claims, a study by the Independent Budget Office in 2007 found that under the old school budgeting formula disparities in funding allocations among schools were due in large part to class sizes and pupil to teacher ratios.  Average teacher salaries accounted for 21% and 13% of funding disparities among elementary and middle schools respectively and were only secondary in importance[1].... Members of CEC2 letter to Farina
I haven't followed Fair Student Funding issues in detail and admit I didn't read the following carefully enough and am posting this as a service to readers interested in the issue.

My sense was that FSF was designed to push out veteran teachers by making their salaries prohibitive and any other issues are used to cover that fact up. Salaries should be in a separate category and should be centrally funded. Everything else should then be divided up equitably. To me "fair" student funding should be renamed "unfair teacher funding."

Shino Tanikawa has been a proactive parent leader on a number of issues, so anytime she and others associated with her take action I listen.

The Honorable Carmen Fariña
NYC Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007
April 18, 2016
Dear Chancellor Fariña,
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on Fair Student Funding. 
Given the fiscal constraints imposed by the State budget, we appreciate the Mayor’s efforts to bring all schools’ funding allocation to a minimum of 87% of the Fair Student Funding formula amount and to 100% for Renewal Schools.  However we are deeply concerned about the below-formula allocation year after year.  In fact, most of our schools across the city have never been funded at 100% of their FSF formula amount.  This persistent funding shortage has led to our schools needing to enroll students above the building’s capacity and/or at class sizes that compromise the educational quality (we consider the UFT contractual maximum class sizes to be unacceptably large). 
We understand the tax levy dollars alone cannot fund our schools fully and that we need the State funding.  We urge the Mayor and your department to take a more aggressive stance on securing the money owed to our children.  The State has continuously reneged on its legal obligation under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement to fund the City’s schools so that our children receive the same quality education as the students from the rest of the State. Reduced funding after the economic downturn in 2008 might have been justifiable.  However, we are no longer in recession and we cannot afford to lose another generation of our children to overcrowded and underfunded schools.  The Mayor was forceful and successful in securing additional funding for his PreK initiative two years ago.  We need the same level of commitment from the Mayor to hold the State accountable, so that we can ensure the Pre-Kindergarten students continue to receive high quality education once they move up to Kindergarten and beyond. 
With respect to the formula weights, we support the proposal to increase resources for English Language Learners and Students with Interrupted Formal Education.   However, we have no way of gauging whether the specific weights are adequate in providing the services needed for the various categories of students. For instance assigning the lowest grade base weight to elementary grades does not seem appropriate given the class size reduction planned under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (even if we do not seem to be implementing the Class Size Reduction Plan).  We would like to request a non-technical summary of how the DOE determines various weights, if possible, so that we can better understand the weight assignments.
At a broader scale, we urge the Department of Education to conduct a thorough review of FSF to evaluate whether 1) the formula has achieved the original intent (equity in school-based funding allocations and more equitable distribution of experienced teachers); 2) the formula, if funded at 100%, is adequate to provide a high quality education to all our students; and 3) there are any relationships between pupil based funding and class sizes or school overcrowding. 
Former Chancellor Klein introduced Fair Student Funding in 2006 in an effort to distribute tax levy dollars more equitably and make school budgeting more transparent.  We – the parents – were told that the old formula based on school enrollment and average teacher salaries tended to concentrate veteran teachers (i.e., higher salaries) in well-to-do schools leaving struggling schools with new teachers (i.e., lower salaries).  By changing budgeting to a student-based formula with different weights given to various different needs of students, funding was supposed to be distributed more equitably among the schools. 
Despite the former Chancellor’s claims, a study by the Independent Budget Office in 2007 found that under the old school budgeting formula disparities in funding allocations among schools were due in large part to class sizes and pupil to teacher ratios.  Average teacher salaries accounted for 21% and 13% of funding disparities among elementary and middle schools respectively and were only secondary in importance[1]. A later IBO study reviewing FSF found disparities still existed even after FSF was implemented, largely due to post-formula adjustments.  In early years of the FSF implementation, funding allocation levels ranged from 87% to 146% of the FSF formula amounts[2].   While the gap between the lowest and highest allocations has narrowed over the years, IBO attributes this shift to post-formula adjustments (e.g., hold harmless and incremental funding).  The same report points to the need to re-evaluate post-formula adjustments, which make the budget not only difficult to analyze properly but also less transparent. 
Unfortunately the 2013 IBO report did not analyze whether FSF has made the funding allocations more equitable or allowed struggling schools to hire veteran teachers – the pillars of the school budgeting reform as envisioned by the former Chancellor.  The report concludes that “the formula still has a ways to go,” and recommends securing more funding and ending the post-formula adjustments.  The report also recommends a further review, including an analysis of the formula weights and assumptions behind them. 
Finally from many conversations with principals in District 2 for the past several years, we have noticed a trend in many schools toward enrolling the maximum number of students in articulating grades (K and 6th) despite the fact District 2 has added eight elementary schools and two middle schools since 2009. Principals routinely project and plan for 25 students in Kindergarten classes and 30 to 33 students in sixth grade classes.  These class sizes are partially driven by lack of seats (even with so many new schools) but also are exacerbated by the fact that register losses of even one student translate to real dollars lost from the school’s budget.  Schools no longer need to lose a class full of students to see the full impact on the budget.  FSF has certainly made capacity planning conversations more complicated because it is difficult to imagine Kindergarten and first grade classes with 20 students.  However, we firmly believe that capital planning must be based on the City’s Class Size Reduction Plan.  We also believe that school based funding formula must also be aligned with the Class Size Reduction Plan, even if schools cannot be funded the full formula amounts, as they are today. 
We sincerely hope DOE will work with either IBO or the Comptroller’s Office to take a critical look at FSF so that we can ensure a funding formula that is equitable and visionary.
Shino Tanikawa, President, CECD2*
Robin Broshi, Vice President, CECD2*
Claude Arpels, CECD2*
Jonah Benton, CECD2*
Beth Cirone, CECD2*
John Keller, CECD2*
Carrie Solomon, CECD2*

 *for identification purposes only

[1] New York City Independent Budget Office.  Background Paper. (2007, October). Contributing Factors: Disparities In 2005 Classroom Spending. http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/FairStudentFunding1.pdf
[2] New York City Independent Budget Office. Schools Brief. (2013, April). Is It Getting Fairer? Examining Five Years of School Allocations Under Fair Student Funding.  http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/fsf2013.html

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