In a landmark ruling that is a victory for every child in the State of New York, the New York Court of Appeals, the Stateâ€™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.
Todayâ€™s 4-1 decision overturns a lower courtâ€™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 DeGrasseâ€™s 2001 trial court ruling that all children are constitutionally entitled to the opportunity for a â€śsound basic educationâ€ť that prepares them for capable citizenship, and that the Stateâ€™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 todayâ€™s decision a resounding victory for New Yorkâ€™s school children:
â€śTodayâ€™s decision is a ringing triumph for every child in New York City, New York State, and throughout the nation,â€ť Rebell stated.
â€śThe Court has declared in no uncertain terms that New Yorkâ€™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.â€ť
â€śWe 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,â€ť 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. â€śWeâ€™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.â€ť
The Court ordered the Governor and legislature to undertake a study to â€śascertain the actual cost of providing a sound basic education in New York City,â€ť to reform the Stateâ€™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 â€śsound basic educationâ€ť as one that includes a meaningful high school education with the skills and knowledge to â€śfunction productively as civic participantsâ€ť 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 Courtâ€™s remedial orders technically apply only to New York City schools. CFEâ€™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, â€śThe 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.â€ť
â€śThe high school constitutional standard applies statewide and so will any effective reforms to the education funding system,â€ť Rebell added. â€śWe 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.â€ť
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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