Monitoring The Mayor's Purse Strings

Last Friday, State leaders voted to extend mayoral control of NYC schools for one year. This time, for the first time ever, there are specific strings attached. The Mayor and the city will now be required to share funding formulas and information for individual schools.

Wow! Yes! Woohoo! After months of petitioning, emailing, tweeting, reporting, talking, testifying, rallying, it is nothing but heartening that a spotlight is finally being fixed on the rampant disparities in funding at NYC public schools. Thank you legislators for publicly acknowledging that there needs to be scrutiny and culpability for current random, disproportionate, and opaque funding.

From Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, "It is eminently reasonable for a parent or a City Council member to be able to say, 'Where are you spending the money? How much are you spending per pupil? In what districts?"

And from Jeffrey Klein, Senate Coalition Leader and Independent Democratic Conference Leader, "I don't think it's unreasonable if we require the city of New York, as part of mayoral control, to provide transparency. Let's see how much we're spending per school."

Acknowledging the need for accountability is a great start. For those doing the deeper digging, budgets are available at the Depart of Education's website. It's easy to look up any school in the city and get numbers and percentages. That part is exceedingly transparent. But, to thousands of concerned students, parents, teachers, and administrators, the major issue is vast range in percentage of funding each school actually gets.

Fingers are collectively crossed that state involvement will lead to constructive movement towards equality in funding - that this isn't merely a political chess move meant to challenge the Mayor, who hasn't been particularly forthcoming, or forthcoming at all about the absolute lack of transparency on how and why there's been a 40 plus percent differential for years.

While he did raise the new bottom of Fair Student Funding (FSF), the funding stream through which schools get the majority of their money, from 82% to 87% for the upcoming fiscal year, then a bump to 90% the following year, countless students are still receiving more at the expense of others who've been consistently funded less. Creating a higher bottom doesn't do anything more than slap on a financial band aid. Fair Student Funding was created to make sure students in different grades (elementary, middle, high school), with different needs (special ed, specialized, performance, ELL, and more) received commensurate funding. That hasn't happened. And, for the most part, the Department of Education, the Chancellor, the Panel for Educational Policy, and the Comptroller have had zero to say about how things got so derailed in the first place and what can be done to fix the system.

In response to this new piece of the mayor control puzzle, the Mayor was quoted as saying, "The extension of mayoral control reflects a simple truth: this policy has resulted in unprecedented progress and achievement in our schools."

No Mr. Mayor. That's just not true. Fortunately, though, someone out there recognized the current chaos and inequity. We can only hope that elected state officials will not be content with just getting reports, but will start asking questions, right the funding wrongs that have gone unchecked for years, put systems in place to maintain oversight and equity, and thus serve more NYC students more fairly. Our children deserve better than this.