history lesson

Here’s the education lawsuit that helped motivate Cynthia Nixon’s run for governor

PHOTO: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Former Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon speaks to people at the Bethesda Healing Center in Brooklyn, New York on March 20, 2018 at her first event since announcing that shes running for governor of New York.

One of Cynthia Nixon’s main campaign issues in the New York gubernatorial race comes from an unlikely source — a 1993 lawsuit filed by a group of New York City parents who believed their students weren’t receiving a fair education.

That lawsuit was settled after 13 years, and to satisfy the terms of the 2006 settlement, the state created a funding formula and pledged to provide an infusion of cash to schools. But a group of advocates — including the “Sex and the City” star — say the state still owes schools over $4 billion.

Nixon centered her first Albany appearance since launching her campaign around the issue of school funding.

“Governor Cuomo’s entire argument on school funding is just one big excuse to ignore the lives of students who are black or brown or working-class,” Nixon said on Monday. “The Cuomo budget does not value the lives of the majority of New York’s children.”

The following is a quick history of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity that Chalkbeat put together in 2016, along with some more recent information.

  • In 1993, a group of parents and advocates in New York City filed a lawsuit claiming that the state’s education funding formula was unconstitutional.
  • In 2006, after a 13-year fight, a New York State Court of Appeals ruled the state owed schools more money in order to provide students with a “sound basic education.”
  • The state set out to provide billions in funds to comply with the lawsuit in 2007 and 2008.
  • But in 2009, the recession caused the plans to stall. During that year, some wondered if the campaign had failed to deliver on its promise.
  • In 2011, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity almost dissolved before becoming part of the Education Law Center. The campaign’s struggle was seen as reflective of a greater shift in education advocacy. “The old mantra was that urban districts failed because they have been historically underfunded; now, advocates are more likely to argue that funding is necessary but not sufficient,” Chalkbeat wrote at the time.
  • The next few years were dominated by other education reforms. For instance, the state fought for Race to the Top funding, adopted Common Core and revised teacher evaluations.
  • In 2016, the state began backing away from those reforms, and the legislative session seemed to refocus on school funding. The state restored the Gap Elimination Adjustment (a funding cut that mainly hurt wealthier districts) and overall, oversaw a $1.3 billion increase in school aid.
  • Still, state officials did not fully restore the money owed to schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. “This budget fails to address fundamental educational inequality based on both race and income,” Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, said at the time.
  • In 2017, the governor sought to make a controversial change to the Foundation Aid formula, which is how the state sought to divvy up the billions in additional lawsuit funds. Advocates called it a “repeal” of the formula and charged that Cuomo wanted to back out of the state’s commitment to provide billions in school aid. (Cuomo officials say no such requirement exists.)
  • Cuomo’s plan to change the foundation aid formula was defeated in last year’s budget and lawmakers provided $700 million in foundation aid.
  • In this year’s testimony to state lawmakers, the Alliance for Quality Education argued that $4.2 billion is still owed to schools.

school facilities

Cold temps close Memphis state-run schools, highlighting bigger issue of repairing costly, aging buildings

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary was one of four school closed Tuesday due to heating issues.

More than 1,200 students in Tennessee’s turnaround district stayed home from school on Tuesday because their school heating systems weren’t working properly.

Temperatures dipped below 35 degrees, and four schools in the Achievement School District opted to cancel classes because of boiler issues: Georgian Hills Achievement Elementary School, Frayser Achievement Elementary School, Corning Achievement Elementary School, and Martin Luther King Jr. High School. In addition, Kirby Middle School decided to close Wednesday.

Aging school buildings in Memphis have caused headaches and missed school time for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District, which occupies buildings rent-free from the local district. Just last week, Hamilton High School in Shelby County Schools closed for two days after a power outage caused by heavy rain, and Kirby High School remains closed because of a rodent infestation. Kirby’s students are being housed in different schools for the rest of the semester while repairs are made to rid the school of pests. And Shelby County Schools had to deal with the dropping temperatures on Tuesday as well, with Westwood High School and Oak Forest Elementary ending classes early due to their own heating issues. Westwood High will remain closed Wednesday.

But Tuesday’s closures for state-run schools point to a larger issue of facilities: In a city full of older school buildings needing expensive updates, who pays, and who does the work? There is a formal maintenance agreement between the two districts, but the lines that divide responsibilities for repairs are not always clear.

Shelby County Schools is responsible for bigger fixes in the state district, such as new roofs or heating and air conditioning systems, while the state district’s charter operators are responsible for daily maintenance.

Bobby White, chief of external affairs for the Achievement School District, said they are working with Shelby County Schools to resolve the heating problem at the three elementary schools, two of which share a building. But he said that the issues won’t be fixed by Wednesday, and the schools will remain closed.

“We know it throws off our teachers and students to miss class,” White said. “It’s an unfortunate situation. And it underscores the larger issue of our buildings not being in good shape.”

The charter organization Frayser Community Schools runs MLK Jr. High School as part of the Achievement School District, and a spokeswoman for Frayser said they were handling the boiler repairs on their own as opposed to working with Shelby County Schools. School will remain canceled at the high school on Wednesday.

“Currently our maintenance team is working with a contracted HVAC company to rectify the heating issue,” Erica Williams told Chalkbeat. “Unfortunately, it was not resolved today, resulting in school being closed Wednesday. While our goal is to have school as soon as possible, we want to make sure it’s in a comfortable environment for our students.”

The state district was created in 2012 to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools by taking over local schools and giving them to outside charter organizations to run. Shelby County Schools has a crippling amount of deferred maintenance for its school buildings, including those occupied by the state district, that would cost more than $500 million. The Shelby County district prioritizes how to chip away at that huge cost based on how many children are affected, the condition of the building, and the type of repair, spokeswoman Natalia Powers told Chalkbeat, adding that the district has made some major repairs at state-run schools.

But Sharon Griffin, chief of the Achievement School District told Chalkbeat previously that one of her goals is to resolve problems more quickly with Shelby County Schools when a major repair is needed to avoid lost class time.

Still counting

Jeffco bond measure that had been failing pulls ahead in narrow race

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Students work on breathing exercises during a yoga class at the end of the school day at Pennington Elementary School.

Update: Over the weekend, the bond measure pulled ahead and is currently headed toward passage, with 50.3 percent of the vote. We’ll continue to update this post as new results come in.


Vote tallies released Thursday in Jefferson County show that a $567 million bond request is down by just 132 votes, opening up the possibility that it might yet pass.

We previously reported that Jefferson County voters had approved a $33 million local tax increase but turned down the bond request. At midday Wednesday, just 48 percent of voters had said yes. The gap was roughly 7,000 votes, and the trend hadn’t changed since the first returns were posted Tuesday evening. It appeared to mark the second time in two years that Jeffco voters had turned down a request to issue debt to improve school buildings.

But by Thursday evening, with additional ballots counted, the margin by which Jeffco Measure 5B was failing had narrowed significantly. The 132-vote margin is currently within the window that would trigger an automatic recount. A mandatory recount is triggered when the difference is one half of one percent of the number of votes cast for the higher vote count, according to officials from the Secretary of State’s office.

Backers of the tax measures are holding out hope the result could change.

District officials said they plan to use the proceeds of this year’s tax measures to raise teacher pay, increase mental health support for students, beef up school security, expand career and technical education, improve science facilities, add more full-day preschool, and buy classroom materials and technology.

On Wednesday, Katie Winner, a mother of two students in Jeffco schools, told us the two tax measures were closely tied and both equally needed.

“I want to know what voters were thinking,” she said. “I didn’t see one without the other.”

We’ll keep tabs on the counting and update you as soon as we have a final tally.