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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Thu, Jun 26, 2003

Highest Court Rules For CFE; Declares That All Children Are Entitled To A "Meaningful High School Education"

In Landmark Victory for New York Schoolchildren, N.Y. Court of Appeals Rejects 8th-grade Standard, Orders State to Reform Unconstitutional Education Funding Formula

In a landmark ruling that is a victory for every child in the State of New York, the New York Court of Appeals, the State’s highest court, ruled today in Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc (CFE) v. State that every public school student is entitled to the opportunity for a meaningful high school education. The Court ordered the State to implement major education funding and accountability reforms to allow students in New York City schools to meet this constitutional standard.

Today’s 4-1 decision overturns a lower court’s 2002 ruling that the State must only ensure that students receive an 8th-grade education, a decision that caused a fury among parents, educators, and New Yorkers in every part of the state last summer. The decision reinstates State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse’s 2001 trial court ruling that all children are constitutionally entitled to the opportunity for a “sound basic education” that prepares them for capable citizenship, and that the State’s current funding system fails to meet these requirements.

Michael A. Rebell, the Executive Director of CFE and co-counsel in CFE v. State, called today’s decision a resounding victory for New York’s school children:

“Today’s decision is a ringing triumph for every child in New York City, New York State, and throughout the nation,” Rebell stated.

“The Court has declared in no uncertain terms that New York’s children are more important than backroom politics. The Court joins the people of New York in agreeing that all children should have a true educational opportunity to succeed in the workplace and in life.”

“We are extremely gratified that the Court forcefully rejected the 8th-grade standard and ruled that all children in the State deserve a meaningful high school education,” said Joseph P. Wayland, co-counsel and Litigation Partner at Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, which has provided exemplary pro bono counsel during the trial and appeals process. “We’re delighted to tell students that they can return in the fall with the hope that their schools will be able to provide them with the educational opportunity they constitutionally deserve.”

The Court ordered the Governor and legislature to undertake a study to “ascertain the actual cost of providing a sound basic education in New York City,” to reform the State’s funding formula to ensure necessary resources, and to implement a fair accountability system to ensure that students actually receive that opportunity. It defined a “sound basic education” as one that includes a meaningful high school education with the skills and knowledge to “function productively as civic participants” in 21st-century society, including being capable and knowledgeable voters and jurors able to sustain employment.

Because CFE was originally filed on behalf of New York City public school students, the Court’s remedial orders technically apply only to New York City schools. CFE’s attorneys maintain, however, that any effective changes to the state funding system must be statewide and will benefit under-funded schools and districts in every part of the state.

According to Rebell, “The Court has held that the State constitution guarantees a meaningful high school education to every child in New York, from New York City to Buffalo, Long Island to Plattsburgh, and everywhere in between.”

“The high school constitutional standard applies statewide and so will any effective reforms to the education funding system,” Rebell added. “We fully expect the Governor and legislature to do the right thing and institute a fair, need-based education funding formula that will ensure adequate funding in all 700 school districts in the State of New York.”

Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye authored the decision for the majority, joined by Judges George Bundy Smith, Carmen B. Ciparick, Albert M. Rosenblatt. Judge Susan P. Read, a recent appointee of Gov. George Pataki, was the lone dissenter on the court.

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Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >