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Give Brooklyn Tech its Fair Share of State Funding: Parents and Students

By Amy Zimmer | December 17, 2015 1:23pm
 The elite Brooklyn Tech gets less of its Fair Student Funding allocation than other specialized schools.
The elite Brooklyn Tech gets less of its Fair Student Funding allocation than other specialized schools.
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DNAinfo.com/Janet Upadhye

BROOKLYN —  Students call it “Broken Tech.”

It may be one of the most elite high schools in the city, but the famed Brooklyn Technical High School’s Fort Greene home is breaking down, with an array of things constantly on the fritz, from elevators and toilets to laptops and smart boards, parents, staffers and students say.

The school, which is among the city's eight specialized high schools, is struggling to give its high performing students the same level of education as its peers — critics say — and they're blaming the city for giving the school less funding than it legally deserves.

Tech, which has a budget this year of nearly $27 million, is being shortchanged by roughly $2 million under the Education Department's own "Fair Student Funding" formula, according to DOE documents.

 Brooklyn Tech student Zoe Snyder said her school isn't able to offer its students the top level education they thought they'd be getting.
Brooklyn Tech student Zoe Snyder said her school isn't able to offer its students the top level education they thought they'd be getting.
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Zoe Snyder

“Specialized high schools give a promise to their students that we have the equipment to educate them,” said senior Zoe Snyder, a student representative on Brooklyn Tech’s School Leadership Team. “If we don’t have the money to give students what’s promised to them, then it shouldn’t be called [specialized].”

More than 4,500 people, as of Wednesday signed a petition calling on the Department of Education to give Brooklyn Tech its full funds, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Brooklyn Tech —  the alma mater of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s son Dante —  is considered a science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — school, but the engineering program is falling far short, Snyder said.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for students as they’ve lost several sections of Advanced Placement courses, from calculus and computer science to French and forensic science. The schools can’t pay for needed guidance counselors, and science labs are in disrepair, forcing teachers to skip certain assignments, students said.

She didn’t blame her school’s administration over the funding issue, but said nevertheless that it was “frustrating.”

“I want to be able to fulfill my potential in high school,” Snyder said. “[Tech] has allowed me to be well educated, but I think there’s so much more it could have done if we had more money. Money has a big influence on education and materials. I want to be able to have the best education possible.”

More than 60 percent of the city’s nearly 500 high schools — including the other specialized schools — get a higher percentage of their fair student funding than Brooklyn Tech, which gets 87 percent of its allocation, DOE data shows. Stuyvesant, for instance, gets nearly 97 percent of its Fair Student Funding allocation. The High School of American Studies at Lehman College gets roughly 115 percent of its allocation, and the High School of Math, Science and Engineering, receives the most of its allocation at more than 123 percent.

The DOE introduced the funding formula almost a decade ago to dole out resources not simply based on a school's student body size, but also accounting for extra resources needed to support certain kinds of students, like English language learners and students with special needs.

Brooklyn Tech students and parents are also incensed by the funding disparity because they believe their needs are greater.

Tech is the largest of the high schools requiring students take the specialized high school admissions test. It has the highest number of underrepresented minorities of all the specialized high schools, and it has the most students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, with 65 percent of its student body, according to the school’s PTA. 

It’s also housed in the oldest building of its peers.

“It’s one test with the same expectation,” Tech PTA-co-president Elissa Stein said of the specialized high school exam. “When you’re holding those students to the same level of excellence for entry, they should expect the same level of education.”

“Tech is close to 80 years old,” said Stein, noting that parents recently voted to replace broken air conditioners throughout the building.

Stein said that she and other PTA leaders met with DOE officials to address the funding issue, but was told that no more money would be made available to the school.

Fair Student Funding from the state was promised nearly a decade ago as a result of a settlement with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. But most schools never received extra resources, and the city estimates that there's a $2.6 billion shortfall this year alone in failing to fund public schools adequately under the agreement.

The city did, however, make a commitment to fully fund the 130 struggling schools known as Community or Renewal schools, adding more than $90 million in the next two years to bolster their budgets, officials announced previously.

“Our goal is equitable funding for all schools as the fiscal situation permits,” DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in an email, noting that the city will continue to push for the billions its owed from the state.

“The department does not currently have the resources to bring all schools to 100 percent of their [Fair Student Funding] formula amount,” she added.