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Mayor Increases 'Fair Share' Funding for Schools, but Critics Want More

By Amy Zimmer | January 22, 2016 9:13pm | Updated on January 24, 2016 4:27pm
 Brooklyn Tech, which only gets 87 percent of its Fair Student Funding allocation, won't seen an increase in funding under the mayor's proposed budget.
Brooklyn Tech, which only gets 87 percent of its Fair Student Funding allocation, won't seen an increase in funding under the mayor's proposed budget.
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Photo by Jesse Lent

BROOKLYN — Mayor Bill de Blasio is dedicating $159 million in the next fiscal year to help beef up budgets at city schools that are currently well below what they should be receiving, according to his self-avowed "boring" preliminary budget released Thursday.

With the added funding, no school will get less than 87 percent of its “Fair Student Funding” allocation, the mayor said.

But that increase was not sufficient, said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who has asked to take additional steps and outline how and when schools will be fully funded.

The Department of Education 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.

Though this funding from the state was promised nearly a decade ago as a result of a settlement with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, most schools never received any extra resources.

The city estimates that there's a $2.6 billion shortfall this year alone in failing to fund public schools adequately under the agreement.

“I am concerned that there are inequities in Fair Student Funding that are holding some of our high schools back,” Adams said in a statement. “This includes specialized schools like Brooklyn Tech as well as particularly large campuses like Fort Hamilton, Lincoln, and Madison.”

Adams blamed the shortfall on the state’s “ongoing denial of legally-mandated Campaign for Fiscal Equity funds,” but said the city needed to pick up the slack.

“Our children cannot afford to have us fail in implementing alternate strategies to make every school whole,” he said. “In the absence of leadership from Albany, I have asked the city to fill the void. We must make our plan for meeting the needs of underfunded schools clear to parents, teachers, and administrators."

Of nearly 500 high schools in the city, roughly 35 percent currently get less than 87 percent of their Fair Student Formula allocation, according to DOE data.

The city already stepped up its investment this past spring to fully fund the 130 struggling schools known as Community or Renewal schools.

But the issue of Fair Student funding returned to the spotlight when parents Brooklyn Tech demanded that they, too, get their fair share.

The elite high school in Fort Greene — which students call “Broken Tech” — already gets 87 percent of its Fair Student allocation.

But that percentage is the lowest among the city's eight specialized high schools, and Brooklyn Tech’s parents and students say their community is suffering as a result of being shortchanged. At the same time, its students have the greatest needs — Tech 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.

Because of the funding gap, the school isn’t able to provide the same level of education as it does at the other specialized schools, which require the same test for entry, parents and students say. Brooklyn Tech lost several sections of Advanced Placement courses, it can’t pay for needed guidance counselors, and science labs are in disrepair.

Brooklyn Tech's PTA co-president didn't think the mayor's proposal went far enough to address the "longstanding disparity" in the allocations across the city.

"It is unfair, bordering on discriminatory that some schools are perpetually underfunded," Stein said. "While it’s heartening to hear more schools will receive money, plenty of others won’t. The mayor’s suggestions are merely a band-aid, not a solution to rampant inequality."

DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the department would continue to work with the state on getting the billions its owed from the settlement and work “towards our goal of bringing all schools to 100 percent of their Fair Student Funding formula amount.”