When the state budget was finalized last week it was full of pleasant surprises for advocates, including the state agreeing to make good on its promise to fully fund city schools, a demand made in court by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, or CFE. 

“Miracles work. You know, you have to believe, especially when you are continuing and struggling to make sure it happens every year in the budgetary process,” said Democratic State Senator Robert Jackson.

What You Need To Know

  • The New York State budget fully funds money owed to the neediest school districts by providing funding for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity

  • The Campaign for Fiscal Equity first filed suit in 1993, and a court ruled in its favor in 2006.

  • Supporters of the lawsuit say Governor Cuomo's weakened stature due to multiple scandals helped secure the funding

Senator Jackson was part of the original CFE lawsuit brought in 1993 that accused the state of New York of failing to provide adequate funding for its neediest school districts. 

In 2006, the court agreed with the plaintiffs, and it ordered New York State to pay billions of dollars for parity with other districts. But as the financial crisis set in during the late 2000s, the state simply stopped honoring its financial obligation. 

This year, it agreed to make up the difference with back pay, starting with an initial infusion of $1.4 billion, which is known as Foundation Aid, to schools.

“Well, it’s a three year phase-in, about $1.4 billion each year,” said Jackson. “But you know, just like everything else, we have to make sure that it gets there.”

So, what changed? For starters, both houses finally had enough members to override a veto from Governor Andrew Cuomo. In addition, Cuomo is facing multiple scandals including accusations of sexual harassment, which left him with much less clout in the budget process.

“The governor was vulnerable, weakened. Two, I think there was an influx of federal money, which came from the feds, and three, those of us who were pushing it each year and we never gave up on it,” said Democratic Assemblyman Charles Barron.

The new infusion of cash means a whole host of new opportunities. Mayor Bill de Blasio says that increase will allow him to fully fund his “Summer Rising” program, which blends camp activities and learning for students. 

“We now have a whole different reality with education funding, thanks to the actions of the state legislature,” de Blasio said. “And I’m going to thank Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Carl Heastie as many times as I possibly can because fulfilling the commitment of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, 15 years or more later, it’s finally being done, it changed everything for us.”

The real test of the state’s commitment to full CFE funding will come next year when New York is likely to receive much less in federal funding. Not only did Washington provide $12.6 billion to fill its budget deficit, but more federal money was made available for various programs through different stimulus packages.