When Smart Kids Finish Last

Budget and calculator
Budget and calculator

When looking at a NYC public school's annual budget, the funding stream that by far supplies the most money is a budget line called Fair Student Funding or FSF. FSF was introduced in 2008 to better meet the needs of individual students. That sounded great - responsible and forward thinking. Starting with grade weights, additional funding is allocated for a variety of criteria included academic intervention, English language learners, special education students, and portfolio high schools, which include CTE programs, specialized academic or audition, and transfer students.

Unfortunately, that's not how it actually worked out.

While the DOE website states:
  • School budgeting should fund students fairly and adequately, while preserving stability at all schools;
  • Different students have different educational needs, and funding levels should reflect those needs as best as possible;
  • School budgets should be as transparent as possible so that funding decisions are visible for all to see and evaluate.

That isn't the reality.

Schools are actually funded anywhere from 82% to 124% of their FSF budgets, with no apparent rhyme or reason as to who gets what and why. In searching for information and answers, members of the PTA at Brooklyn Technical High School, one of NYC's eight specialized test in schools, were told current percentages are based on previous funding streams and that no one has gone in to adjust them when promised state funds never materialized years ago. Brooklyn Tech has been stagnant at 87% of FSF for several years while every other specialized high school gets more. Stuyvesant gets 97%. American Studies gets 119%. The High School of Math, Science, and Engineering gets 124%.

This year the Mayor found tens of millions of dollars for his 94 renewal schools. Next year he plans to bump all schools up to 87% of their FSF.

But what about the rampant disparity amongst the specialized high schools? The 37% differential in funding that leaves Brooklyn Tech with a 2 million dollar deficit every year?

Brooklyn Tech parents brought this issue to their community and the media. It was written about in the Wall Street Journal, DNA Info, and Schoolbook. Thousands of signatures have been added to an online petition and letters. The Brooklyn Borough President has publicly asked the Mayor to better fund Brooklyn Tech and other large, underfunded Brooklyn high schools. Parents, students, and alumni have testified at Panel for Educational Policy meetings.

To no avail.

The lack of action from the DOE and the Mayor to address and rectify FSF inequity clearly shows the students of Brooklyn Tech that they are not considered commensurate with those at other specialized high schools. They are not seen as equal to their counterparts who also took the SHSAT, the sole admissions method to these eight schools. They are literally worth less.

As a taxpayer it is unconscionable that such disparity exists in the first place. As a parent it is appalling that when these extremes were brought to light absolutely no one did anything to right the wrongs. As PTA co-president representing thousands of families, it is unforgivable that these hard-working, high-achieving students at Brooklyn Tech are not given all possible options to reach their potential because they're not getting the funding they are supposed to, nor what other specialized students at other schools are receiving.

65% of the students at Brooklyn Tech live at or below the poverty level. More than half the families are first-generation and speak a language other than English at home. At a time when the specialized high schools are called out for a lack of underrepresented minorities, Brooklyn Tech educates hundreds of Black and Latino students. In fact, the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation funds and operates a STEM pipeline, reaching out to local middle schools and working with students to help them gain entry to specialized high schools. The Brooklyn Tech community is a truly diverse melting pot whose students, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, religion, socioeconomic background, traveling from all five boroughs, earned their seats and expected what they thought would be an exemplary education.

Why then are they being told by the DOE and the city that they are less than?