Many schools in New York's poor districts lack basic resources six years after a landmark court ruling required the state to increase spending on public education, a study released Monday by Teachers College at Columbia University says.
The nonprofit Campaign for Educational Equity examined resources at 33 high-needs schools during the 2011-12 school year, including schools in the Big Five districts of New York City and Rochester, as well as schools in selected small city, rural and suburban districts.
Researchers found students going without basics like books and computers and access to state-mandated courses, despite a Court of Appeals ruling that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide every public school student the opportunity for a sound, basic education, the report said.
"The state has put into effect extensive reductions in education funding in recent years - on top of a funding base that the Court of Appeals had already deemed constitutionally inadequate," the authors wrote.
A companion report defined the state's teaching, curricula and facilities commitments under the constitutional obligation.
"The state's got to come up with a serious game plan to deal with this and that's what they're not doing," said the group's executive director, Michael Rebell, a co-founder of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which won the court ruling and now says the state is $5.5 billion behind what it pledged to spend.
Campaign for Educational Equity researchers conducted site visits and interviewed school personnel at buildings serving a large percentage of low-income students. Students and parents were not interviewed and the schools were not identified.
Of the 33 schools studied, 31 lacked a sufficient number of certified teachers and 15 schools said they didn't have enough teachers to meet minimum state requirements in the core subject areas of English language arts, math, science and social studies. In 21 schools, students couldn't take home text books because there weren't enough to go around and 22 schools said they didn't have enough money to replace worn out or obsolete computers and software and keep ink in the printers, the report says.
All of the New York City middle and high schools in the study reported class sizes of 30 or more, with 38 students in some classes.
Neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office nor the state Education Department immediately responded to a request for comment Monday. Cuomo last week said the 4 percent increase in school aid, about $805 million, he included in this year's budget was significant.
"At what point can you get water out of a stone?" he said when asked about demands for increased funding. In the two years prior to the increase, the state reduced school funding by more than $1 billion per year.
"There was a recession and I agree that we have to take a tighter look than we did in the past on ways to save money, but at the same time continue to give kids what they're constitutionally entitled to," Rebell said. "They didn't do that ... No one looked at the impact in the schools."
Rebell said the reports will be the subject of conferences this week in Albany and New York City. The findings also will be given to the Legislature and Cuomo's Education Reform Commission with the goal of pushing lawmakers to act in the next legislative session.
"I hope they'll respond," Rebell said. "But if they don't, the other alternative is the courts."