Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

As the PEP is set to vote on the same schools funding formula it rejected last month, advocates and some PEP members say the need for change is urgent. Still, the formula is expected to pass as it stands, despite some who have been pushing for changes for years—including members of a 2019 task force whose recommendations were never released by the city.

Adi Talwar

P.S. 246 in The Bronx.

Wednesday at 6 p.m., the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) is expected to vote on the Fair Student Funding formula for the second time this year, after the Department of Education’s proposal was rejected during last month’s meeting. No alterations have been made to the proposed formula, which is used to determine how much money each school is allocated every year.

The vote was the second time the PEP—the city body that votes on major decisions related to city schools—rejected a proposal of Mayor Eric Adams since he took office at the start of the year. It’s rare for PEP votes to contradict the mayor’s wishes under NYC’s unique school government structure, where the mayor appoints nine of the 15 of members on the PEP.

It would have taken the majority, eight votes, for the FSF formula to pass last month. But Adams only had seven representatives present at the meeting, while all five borough president appointees abstained. The only elected parent representative voted against the proposal after some members of a 2019 task force commissioned to evaluate the formula spoke up during the meeting’s public comment period, and shared a version of their report and recommendations to the PEP.

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio never released that report or acted on the task force’s recommendations. But members involved in that 2019 effort—who released their own version of the recommendations to the PEP during the 2021 FSF vote as well—say their report concluded that the DOE’s current funding configuration is not doing enough to serve high-need students. They recommended that the formula be updated to provide additional funds to students experiencing poverty, temporary housing and involvement in the foster system, among other recommendations to make the formula more equitable.

“We are releasing this report now because the timing feels both relevant and urgent,” the members’ independent report, described as “the advocates’ version” of the earlier task force’s recommendations, says in its introduction. “COVID-19 has laid bare the long standing inequities in our system. We are all painfully aware of the disparate impact of the pandemic on historically marginalized students. Our recommendations are rooted in addressing some of the long standing inequities by targeting more resources to students who need them the most.”

The city has used the FSF to determine how much money each school gets since 2007, basing a school’s funding on the students who attend, where each student gets a “weight” of funds based on their grade level and learning needs, including factors like English language proficiency and special education services. Prior to the FSF formula, schools got funds based on the payroll of their staff, according to David Bloomfield, an educational policy professor at Brooklyn College.

“Fair student funding changed that so that different students bring a different backpack of money to the school,” Bloomfield said. “The more high needs students you have, the more money you get. What the advocates for changing the formula would like is that there be a redefinition of high needs students to include children in foster care and students with home insecurity, which everybody basically says make sense. But it hasn’t yet occurred.”

Adams has failed to fill his majority of seats on the PEP since his inauguration. The mayor’s ninth seat has remained vacant since Adams dismissed an earlier appointee after her homophobic writing was revealed by the Daily News. During last month’s meeting, Adams’ eighth appointee was absent.

But since it only takes eight votes to pass, the FSF formula is still likely to be approved on Wednesday, since it is expected all eight of Adams’ appointees will be present for the meeting this time around.

In a May 11 email to the PEP, First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg said that apart from wanting to get schools their approved budgets quickly, the DOE did not submit an updated FSF weight proposal after last month’s failed vote because they already presented and gathered feedback on the current plan during their annual meetings with each Community Education Council in February and March.

“One of the major reasons we are reluctant to make changes to the proposed FSF weights at this point is that these are the weights that have been socialized and shared with communities across the city,” Weisberg wrote in the letter. “Changing them without repeating that engagement, which takes several months, would be contrary to both what we are required to do on this topic and the Chancellor’s vision of authentic engagement.”

Weisberg said the agency will do more to engage CECs and the PEP members moving forward.

“We commit to forming a working group inclusive of PEP members who will work with us on ensuring that our schools and students are funded equitably,” Weisberg said. “In addition, in those working groups, we will also share feedback from our most recent engagement with CEC’s and share dates for forthcoming engagement with CEC’s with the Panel moving forward.”

But some PEP members want more substantial change now. Tom Sheppard, the PEP’s elected parent representative, said he will only support the approval of the current FSF weights for the upcoming school year if the city commits to forming a committee to continue the work of the 2019 task force whose recommendations were never considered.

“Present that work to the PEP with enough time for us to review and advise the DOE in a manner consistent with our role as the governing body for NYC Public Schools,” Sheppard said, also calling for the DOE to better explain the current funding equation to parents and “what additional resources will be made available to schools to support these families.”

Unreleased task force report

A source close to city hall, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation, said the City Council was “stonewalled” when members asked the de Blasio administration for the task force’s report back in 2019.

The task force was required by Local Law 17, which the City Council passed in late 2018. Its members included DOE personnel, at least one representative from a CEC in each borough, representatives from the unions representing teachers and principals, a parent of a current student, and advocates who specialize in working with vulnerable student populations.

The group met twice per month over the summer of 2020 and almost weekly that fall, according to Sheree Gibson, a member of the task force. Gibson said they held meetings with principals and the community, and distributed a survey to principals across the city.

“This was a summer that we spent in City Hall,” Gibson said.

Under the law, the task force was “required to submit and post a report with recommendations relating to the formula by September 30, 2019,” the original text of the legislation reads.

But that report was never posted publicly.

“The last administration really did not really want to partner with the council in any type of effective way,” the City Hall source said. “I hold the last mayor accountable.”

Mayor Adams’ office referred questions about the 2019 report to the DOE, which referred City Limits to the prior administration. De Blasio did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

Members of the task force who spoke with City Limits said they had different goals than the former mayor’s office, and felt de Blasio was more concerned with using their report to convince the state to increase funding so the city could meet the full FSF amount for every school—a goal the city only achieved for the first time this school year, after what officials say was decades of being “short changed over a billion dollars a year in state funding.”

Advocates who served on the task force said they were under the impression they were evaluating the formula itself. NeQuan McLean, the CEC representative from Brooklyn on the panel, said he always thought there were student needs in his community that the FSF formula didn’t account for, and he’d hoped the task force could change that.

“I went to that table thinking ‘Okay, we need to get a weight for students in temporary housing,” said McLean, who is the CEC president of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s District 16. “I went to the table and said let’s get new weights, let’s add a weight for poverty. Let’s add weight for students with temporary housing. Let’s add weight for students in foster care.”

Shino Tanikawa, a former CEC representative who served on the task force from Manhattan, said the panel felt that students need a lot more than what they’re getting—a disparity the city would have been forced to reckon with had it allowed their report to be released publicly.

“The city is averse to really looking at the actual educational needs of our students,” said Tanikawa, who is no longer a CEC member. “Because when you actually sit down and think about how many resources our students need, it really is a huge amount. So my guess is that if the city released that report, it would really be admitting that we’re not investing in our students at the level we really have to.”

Gibson said the report should have been released at the beginning of 2020, when the task force finished it.

“All schools would have been faring better because we would have started addressing those issues and items,” Gibson said. “We’re not letting this drop anymore. Our kids are going through the pandemic. It’s very clear that this has to be on our shoulders.”

Wednesday’s PEP vote on the funding formula comes as Mayor Adams continues to push state lawmakers to extend mayoral control of city schools. The policy, which has been in place for the last 20 years and which gives City Hall the power to appoint most members of the PEP and hire and fire the schools chancellor, will expire at the end of June. State legislators have just a few days left in their current session to act on it.

“When we talk about mayoral accountability, who has been accountable to make sure that these weights that our children desperately need get implemented in the 2023 budget?” McLean asked. “This is about the lives and the souls of our children.”

Advocates Recommendations on FSF by Jeanmarie Evelly on Scribd

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