Vouchers in New York City?

The attorney for a Queens NY mother of 5 children sent a memorandum to the judge in charge of a landmark school funding case, asking that the judge order New York City to pay for private school education for two of her children because the city schools failed to provide a basic, sound education. The cost could be up to $65,000.

The attorney, Eric J Grannis, wrote that the 10 and 12 year old children “are not cryogenically frozen, waiting to emerge from a state of suspended animation when the state gets its act together to fulfill its constitutional duty”.

The mother, Dianne Payne, is retired, single, and all five of her children are adopted. Her two oldest children, age 16, both attend Christ the King high school in Queens, where she pays $6,000 tuition for each child per year. She says that “there is no comparison between what they’re doing there and what they’re doing at Christ the King”. A retired corrections officer of 20 years, she says she does not believe that a parent should have to choose which child gets the best education. She also does not want to be forced to move to a different part of the city, leaving the neighborhood of St Albans, where her family lives. “I’m doing my job as a parent,” she told the New York Daily News. “The problem is that the city is not doing its job.” A spokeswoman for the city education department has called the action “obvious grandstanding”.

The landmark case referred to was filed by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity over a decade ago. In 2003, a state court of appeals upheld the judge’s ruling that Albany had failed to provide New York City students a sound basic education. Last November, New York State was ordered to pay 23 billion dollars more in operating and capital funding over the next 5 years. New York City schools currently receive $5.85 billion of New York State’s 15.4 billion in annual school aid. New York City is the largest school district in the United States, with over 1 million students enrolled.

New York City is home to a huge network of private schools. Some are independent prep schools, catering to wealthy families for the most part. Some are religious schools. Upwardly mobile families have for many years considered the choices available to them, from living in the right neighborhood for a public school to intense preparation for admission to prep school at the nursery level.

It will be interesting to see if this case introduces vouchers to the New York City schools, and what effect such choices will have on students who did not have these choices before. Public school students in New York City do have the ability to attend magnet schools in high school and middle school, but space is limited, and in some of the high schools, is competitive.