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New York

Bruised by suit, advocates try persuasion to boost school funds

Panelists discuss a slate of new papers about school funding in New York at Teachers College Tuesday night. Michael Rebell led the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's landmark school finance lawsuit for 13 years, but for a long time the lawyer was conflicted about the case. He believed what he ultimately convinced the courts: that the state had given New York City schools less than their fair share of funding. But he was also persuaded by a counter-argument that he heard during the litigation: that more money wouldn't help schools whose biggest problem was poverty. And the lawsuit itself wasn't helping him reconcile the tension. "We have this adversary system for dealing with legal matters in our courts, where two warring sides take firm and opposite opinions," he said. "The truth is sometimes more complicated than that." Now, months after CFE laid off its last employee and the state trimmed the equity dollars for the second time, Rebell is trying a different approach to advocate for poor students. As the director of the Campaign for Educational Equity, a think tank housed at Columbia University's Teachers College, Rebell is setting out to win not a legal victory but the hearts and minds of policymakers. His first step: To solicit a set of academic papers, released this week and discussed at Teachers College Tuesday night, that make the case for what he calls "comprehensive educational equity." A main point of the papers is, as the CFE lawsuit contended and the New York Times reported earlier this week, that the state should give more to its schools — $4,750 per poor student, to be precise. But they also sketch out a policy platform that Rebell said could help close racial and class achievement gaps.