As the fight for economic and educational justice continues, an important lawsuit on equitable funding for charter-school students is moving through New York’s courts and faces a critical moment.
The case is being heard upstate but its outcome will affect every charter-school student in Harlem, Brooklyn, The Bronx and across the state.
The lawsuit is called Brown v. New York. Filed by brave western New York families of charter-school children and backed by the Northeast Charter Schools Network, Brown says the formula used to fund charter schools discriminates against these children, who are overwhelmingly lower income and black or Hispanic.
The formula’s details are complicated, but its impact is remarkably simple and eerily unsettling.
A student in a Buffalo charter receives only three-fifths of what a child in a district-run school receives for his or her education — for the sole reason that the child attends a charter public school and not a district public school. (If that ratio — three-fifths — rings a bell, it should. In drafting the US Constitution, Southern states wanted slaves counted as full persons to increase those states’ congressional representation, but without giving them full rights. The compromise eventually reached counted slaves as three-fifths of a free white man.)
Funding disparities between charter and district kids are similar in other parts of the state, but Buffalo’s is the worst, followed closely by Rochester. In New York City, charter kids in schools that get no facilities help receive only 68 percent of what kids in city-run schools get.
Adding insult to injury, kids outside of New York City get absolutely zero state money for buildings. Inside the city only some kids are helped by the law Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature passed two years ago to force Mayor de Blasio to provide space or money for facilities.
The critical moment comes Sept. 7, when we’ll be back in court again fighting the state’s attempts to have the case thrown out.
We realize it’s a lawyer’s job to throw everything against the wall in an attempt to get a case tossed without even having to fight it on the merits, but New York’s arguments fail a basic smell test. The state is trying to say that students in Buffalo, Rochester and elsewhere in New York state are getting a “sufficient education” and that “equitable funding for charter schools is not required.”
Trial-level judge Donna M. Siwek has already rejected that argument. Sept. 7 is the date for oral arguments on the state’s appeal of that decision in Rochester. That morning, charter supporters will rally near the courthouse to cheer the courageous plaintiff families and demonstrate enthusiasm for the lawsuit.
Brown v. New York goes to a fundamental issue of equality. New York’s charter enrollment exceeds 120,000, with more than 50,000 on waiting lists. Ninety percent of New York’s charter-school students are black or Hispanic and nearly 80 percent are economically disadvantaged.
And they’re victimized by the funding gap for the sole reason that they attend charters.
“For all but the most privileged families, Buffalo and Rochester are educational deserts that starve our most vulnerable children of all meaningful access to the American dream,” the lawsuit states, before citing language from the state Constitution. “In these cities, a ‘sound basic education’ is in short supply, and public charter schools offer a glimmer of hope for many families, but the ability of these charter schools to meet this profound need is stymied by an unconstitutional funding scheme.”
Due to the state’s legal maneuverings, we haven’t yet gotten to the merits of the case. But when we do, we’re hopeful New York’s judges will recognize what our parents and educators see very clearly — that New York’s charter-school funding formula treats our children as second-class citizens.
Charter school children are being shortchanged. The state is denying these students funding, resources and support they deserve and need to fully participate in society as adults.
New York prides itself on being a leader when it comes to addressing other obvious inequities. Now is the time to stop discriminating against charter families. Too many children depend on their public charter school for this unequal treatment to prevail.
Andrea Rogers is New York state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, which advocates for charter schools and their families in New York and Connecticut.
This piece originally appeared on the New York Post