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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Mon, Jun 6, 2005

Kansas Supreme Court Ruling to Have Impact on CFE Case in New York

Kansas Court rejects separation of powers arguments similar to those advanced in New York governor's appeal and orders major funding increase within one month

Rejecting a slew of cost analysis and separation of powers arguments highly similar to those currently being raised by Governor Pataki in CFE v. State of New York, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously issued a stern ruling last Friday, which requires the State to more than double the amount of the increase it had appropriated for the 2005-2006 school year. Specifically, the court ordered that "no later than July 1, 2005, for the 2005-06 school year, the legislature shall implement a minimum increase of $285 million above the funding level for the 2004-05 school year," which is a 10 percent increase.

The legislature, in response to a prior court order, had appropriated a 2005-2006 increase of $142 million. The higher funding increase now ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court represents a one-third phase-in of the full amount recommended in the cost study reviewed and upheld by the trial court. The Kansas Supreme Court also prohibited the legislature from enforcing a number of features of the state aid formulas, which it held to be increasing funding disparities in favor of wealthier districts and unfair to high need districts.

In New York, Governor Pataki and the State defendants have defied the ruling of the state's highest court, which required them to provide adequate funding to New York City's public schools by July 30, 2004. The governor has also refused to comply with a follow-up trial court ruling that specified the amount that should be provided for New York City's schoolchildren for the coming school term; the governor has chosen instead to appeal this order and further delay compliance with the Court of Appeals' mandate.

The major "separation of powers" argument that Governor Pataki has advanced in its CFE appeal is that the courts can not order the legislature to appropriate a higher amount of money, even if current appropriations are in violation of constitutional requirements. Rejecting similar arguments raised by the state defendants in Kansas, that state's Supreme Court held:

[W]hile it is for the General Assembly to legislate a remedy, courts do possess the authority to enforce their orders, since the power to declare a particular law or enactment unconstitutional must include the power to require a revision of that enactment, to ensure that it is then constitutional.

The Kansas court reviewed actions of other state supreme courts that had been faced with resistance to compliance orders in school-funding cases and concluded that:

Other state courts consistently reaffirm their authority, indeed their duty, to engage in judicial review and, when necessary, compel the legislative and executive branches to conform their actions to that which the constitution requires.

Responding to these developments, Michael A. Rebell, CFE's Executive Director and Counsel, called upon Governor Pataki and Attorney General Spitzer to immediately drop their pending appeal and work with the legislative leaders and CFE to enact statewide legislation that will comply with the New York Court of Appeals ruling before the end of the current legislative session. Rebell stated that "The Kansas high court's thorough review and rejection of all of the 'so-called separation of powers' arguments that defendants have raised in these cases make clear that the Governor's purported legal position in the CFE case is a sham; there is no longer any excuse for continuing to deny meaningful educational opportunity to hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren in New York City and in other high-need districts throughout the state."

The Kansas Supreme Court further stated that "… we cannot continue to ask current Kansas students to 'be patient.' The time for their education is now." The North Carolina Supreme Court in its 2004 opinion also called for immediate compliance with constitutional requirements, holding that "We cannot ….imperil even one more class unnecessarily."

"New York's school children, no less than those in Kansas and North Carolina, are entitled to immediate vindication of their constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education," Rebell added.

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 >