Wednesday, July 16, 2014
The Times Union ran this commentary by David Sciarra and Billy Easton yesterday. Thanks to David for sharing.
Sound Education Child's Right
With much fanfare, a novel lawsuit filed in Staten Island alleges teacher tenure, due process and lay-off procedures violate the constitutional right of New York school children to a "sound basic education."
Without offering specifics, the complaint baldly asserts that these procedures result in classrooms filled with "incompetent" teachers, especially in schools serving at-risk students.
The complaint also presents no evidence to suggest that ending tenure or altering due process protections for teachers will somehow improve student outcomes. Nor could it because there is none.This lawsuit gets one thing right: Children in high poverty, urban and rural school districts across the state are indeed being deprived their constitutional right to a sound basic education. What it gets completely wrong is why: the state's continuing failure to fairly fund high need schools so they can recruit, support and retain effective teachers and deliver rich instruction in math, science, world languages, the arts and other core subjects under optimal working conditions.
The right to a sound basic education was fleshed out by New York's highest court in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity rulings. The court established a template of "essential resources" that must be provided to all school children: reasonable class size, a sufficient number of qualified teachers, support services, books, computers and laboratories, and adequate facilities.
In response to CFE, the Legislature enacted the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, with an increase of over $5 billion in state aid phased in over four years. After two years, the state walked away from its commitment to our most disadvantaged children and schools. The funding shortfall now totals a staggering $5.7 billion, with the greatest impact on schools with the highest need.
This severe underfunding has devastated the teaching corps in our most challenging classrooms. Districts have cut teachers by the thousands, even in schools with increasing enrollments. In five years, Yonkers cut 500 staff members, losing half of the reading teachers and all math coaches. Schenectady has shed 40-50 positions annually, cutting music teachers by half, and letting go librarians, instructional coaches and writing instructors.
Cohoes has seen a 21 percent staff reduction, including teachers in foreign language, arts, science, reading, special education and English as a Second Language.
Predictably, these staff reductions have sparked drastic increases in class size. Teachers now routinely face classes of 30 students or more. Schools are now denuded of art, music and foreign language. Many have no librarians. AP courses, electives, sports and clubs are no longer offered. Guidance counselors, social workers, reading specialists, and nurses are in short supply. Extended learning time and summer school are long gone.
Of course, the lawsuit challenging the process by which teachers get tenure and are laid off doesn't mention the unprecedented loss of teachers and essential resources in Utica, Poughkeepsie, Jamestown or dozens of other struggling communities across the state. Nor does it even acknowledge the state's stubborn resistance to fair school funding as the cause.
Let's face reality. Even if teacher tenure and work rules are tweaked, as the Legislature recently did, it will do nothing to ensure New York's most vulnerable children are served by an effective workforce of teachers and support staff, at levels sufficient to deliver a sound basic education.
The good news is parents and students across New York know better. They have stepped up by the thousands to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators know that they will no longer tolerate an underfunded, under-resourced, third-rate education. And they will not be distracted by frivolous, irrelevant lawsuits.
David Sciarra is executive director of the Education Law Center. Billy Easton is executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.