Small Cities Lawsuit Pays Off Statewide

Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, speaks about changes to the district’s COVID-19 policies on Tuesday.

School districts across New York state will see more equitable funding by 2024, Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced.

The governor said the state will settle and discontinue the New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights v. New York State and will fully fund the current Foundation Aid formula. The funds will be disbursed over a three-year period. This ends a dispute between school districts and the state that has gone on for years.

“Every single New Yorker deserves a quality education to succeed in our state, and public schools are a vital component of that opportunity for our children’s upward mobility,” Hochul said. “This settlement closes a long chapter of inequity and demonstrates my administration’s commitment to wiping the slate clean and fully funding public education using a responsive model that takes districts’ unique needs into account. Actions are more important than words, and while the settlement is the first step, we’re following through with funding in the state’s budget. The future of our state depends on our ability to properly educate each child, and Foundation Aid will apply a critical lens to address inequities and ensure schools in need receive the funding they deserve.”

The Foundation Aid Formula takes into consideration the higher-need districts in a fair manner and provides them with adequate funding. The formula was introduced in 2007, used for one year, but was frozen by the state in the second year due to the recession.

The Jamestown Public Schools District has been a part of a lawsuit since 2007, fighting for fair funding for small city school districts like themselves. The lawsuit, also called the “Small Cities Lawsuit,” was filed by 80 parents and students from eight small city school districts in 2008. It contends the state failed to fund the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, which was designed and intended to provide districts statewide, including the eight small cities districts, with the funding required to deliver essential resources and improve outcomes for all students. The eight small city districts included Jamestown, Poughkeepsie, Port Jervis, Utica, Niagara Falls, Mount Vernon, Kingston and Newburgh.

Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown superintendent, said while the announcement is not a new development, it is a good development nonetheless.

“This is good news,” Whitaker said. “Back in the spring, the NYS Legislature approved an increase to Foundation Aid for schools. We are happy to see New York state follow up by settling and discontinuing their appeal in this matter and committing to the education of all students in New York state.”

Southwestern Central School District Superintendent Maureen Donahue said this decision will be incredibly helpful for local and statewide school districts.

“We are grateful to have this resolved,” Donahue said. “It has been a long time coming. School finance is extremely complex with multiple moving parts, and this will be helpful. As a district, we have not been fully funded under the formula in years.”

Hochul said the state will phase in full funding of Foundation Aid by 2024. For the 2022 state budget, the state executive and legislative branches agreed to this timeframe and it was made law.

To make up the shortfall for the shortfall of Foundation Aid freeze, funding going forward will include $19.8 billion in 2022; $21.3 billion in 2023; and $23.2 billion in 2024.

Alliance for Quality Education Executive Director Jasmine Gripper said fully funding Foundation Aid will “ensure that Black, Brown and low-income students attend schools that are fully resourced and will significantly close the opportunity gap.”


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