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Campaign for Fiscal Equity
 

Thu, Nov 18, 2010

NYS Opposes 92 Parents & Children in Court Fight Over Sufficient State School Aid

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The State will appear in court in Albany this week on November 19th to stop a lawsuit, Hussein et al. v State of New York, brought by ninety two parents and children in eleven small city school districts seeking more state aid for their schools. Last year these parents and children successfully opposed a motion by the State asking the State Supreme Court to dismiss of the case. The State has appealed that decision. The districts involved in the suit are Albany, Beacon, Jamestown, Kingstown, Middletown, Mt. Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Pt. Jervis, and Tonawanda City School Districts and serve more than 74,000 students.

Represented by the Attorney General, the State, in papers filed with the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, asserts that education reforms approved by the State Legislature in 2007 render the lawsuit moot and not ripe for adjudication. The papers ask the Court to wait an unspecified period of years in order to see how those reforms work.

Mount Vernon parent Curtis Brewington, one of the plaintiffs in the case, states that postponing his day in court would deny his children the right to challenge the State’s funding scheme. Brewington has six children who attend the Mount Vernon City School District “This case needs to be heard now,” he said. “The longer this case is dragged out the less relevant it will be.” If the State is successful on the appeal, more than 30,000 students will have aged out before this case could be brought again for adjudication.

The lawsuit complains that the State has habitually underfunded these eleven districts causing their school tax rates to soar and preventing them from spending enough to provide a sound basic education for all their students. These districts have struggled unsuccessfully to keep up with rising costs and, under the present system of state funding, are unable to close the achievement gap between their students and those in more affluent school districts.

Mr. Brewington said “I signed up for this lawsuit because I don’t believe the district receives its appropriate share of funding. When I look at the population, the density and the number of special needs students in the district, I know the district is not receiving appropriate aid.”

In the State’s papers in support of the appeal, the Attorney General maintains, however, that the education funding reforms enacted in 2007 should be given a chance to work and that it is premature for the courts to be ‘micro- managing’ education at this time. However, in 2009 the State delayed the implementation of these funding reforms, which were enacted pursuant to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and in 2010 the State implemented education funding cuts in excess of $1.4 billion. Parents and children in the current court action say they want their day in court and assert that the 2007 reforms, even if fully funded, are inadequate and fail to provide the support required under the State Constitution.

The decision by State Supreme Court Justice Eugene P. Devine denying the State’s motion in 2009 stated that the State’s argument “turned the doctrine of ripeness on its head” and that in any event the State had already frozen implementation of funding increases required under the 2007 reforms for the next two years.

Judge Devine heard oral argument on the motion on June 25, 2009 and denied the motion on July 21, 2009. The State took until a year later in June 2010 to decide to go forward with an appeal of the decision.

This case represents the first attempt to extend the findings of the historic case involving the New York City school system, Campaign for Fiscal Equity, to schools outside NYC.

"The Court of Appeals set the constitutional standard for providing every student in New York with the opportunity for a sound basic education--a meaningful high school education that prepares them for competitive employment and active civic participation. Rights do not dissolve every time the economy takes a dip. The education of our kids must be a priority as the state recharts its course. These courageous parents and schoolchildren deserve their day in court to help shape the future of public school funding. We also call on governor-elect Cuomo work with the school community to find innovative solutions to make this right a reality," said Geri D. Palast, Executive Director, Campaign for Fiscal Equity.

"This lawsuit brings into focus the continuing failure of New York State to meet its obligation to fund the educational needs of all our school children," said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. "As Andrew Cuomo asserted during the recent governor's campaign, 'the state has yet to fully fund' the CFE settlement. Instead of the state debating how to add large cuts to the classroom on top of the cuts made earlier this year, we need the state to get real about educating all our children."

Robert Biggerstaff, Executive Director of the NYS Association of Small City school Districts, said that “The State is at least $5.7 billion behind funding the 2007 reforms and full funding of a sound basic education will not occur in the school lifetimes of these 60 plaintiff children unless the court allows this case to go forward, .”

2010-11 State Totals

Projected Foundation Aid - $ 18,482,996,003
Actual Foundation Aid - $ 14,893.140,007
Foundation Aid Shortfall - $ 3,589,855,996
Governor's Education Aid Cuts - $ (2,138,069,821)
Total Short Fall - $ 5,727,925,817

The case also represents an opportunity for the courts to recalibrate the cost of education now that the Regents have declared the existing test regime and scoring system to be far too lenient and not competitive with national standards and testing as stated in July by Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. The Regents authorized Koretz-Everson Study from Harvard showed that a student earning proficiency on state tests in 8th grade Math would have only a 1 in 3 chance of getting an 80% grade on the Math Regents exam. The study also showed that a student earning lower than 80% on the Math Regents exam would have a great likelihood of needing remedial help in college. The Regents are in the process of overhauling tests and have already changed the so-called cut scores measuring success for all state assessments.

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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 >