Major Test of New York School Funding


     MANHATTAN (CN) - New York is violating its constitution by failing to provide basic public education for all its students, parents claim in court.
     New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights and 15 parents claim in New York County Supreme Court that the state reneged on a commitment to provide substantial funding increases to New York City schools and other districts throughout the state over a four-year phase-in period.
     The funding increase was part of an education reform law enacted by the Legislature in 2007 in response to nine years of New York Court of Appeals rulings.
     In the underlying lawsuits, all captioned Campaign for Fiscal Equity Inc. v. State of New York, the court found that the state constitution requires all children attending public school to have the opportunity for sound basic education. The Court of Appeals defined a meaningful high school education as one that prepares students for competitive employment and civic participation.
     "After the first two years of the phase-in, however, the state first froze and then dramatically slashed state aid for education," according to the 67-page lawsuit.
     "These substantial funding reductions were undertaken without (1) any study of their likely impact on the ability of school districts to provide students the opportunity for a sound basic education, and (2) any guidance to school districts on how they might provide the opportunity for a sound basic education with substantially reduced funds," the plaintiffs say.
     "Moreover, for the past four years, since the extensive budget cuts were implemented, the state has neglected to undertake any activities that would allow it to determine what services school districts actually have curtailed in response to the budget cuts and the impact of these service reductions on students' opportunities for a sound basic education," they add.
     In doing so, the plaintiffs charge, "the state defendants have violated their constitutional responsibility to take appropriate actions to ensure that students are provided the opportunity for a sound basic education at all times, and especially during times of fiscal constraint."
     As a result of this violation, they say, "hundreds of thousands of students in the City of New York and in other districts throughout the State of New York are currently being denied the opportunity for a sound basic education."
     The plaintiffs seek declaratory relief finding lawmakers violated the Court of Appeals' orders, failed to comply with requirements of the state constitution, and that its freeze and subsequent school aid reductions are null and void.
     They also seek an overhaul of state aid formulas and mechanisms and the appointment of an independent commission to determine the "actual cost" of providing students with a sound basic education based on current state policies, procedures and costs.
     Finally, in regard to those policies, the plaintiffs seek a court order compelling the state to identify essential courses of study and types of services, supports, and resources that must be available to all students to meet constitutional requirements, and appointment of an independent commission to develop and implement a rational cost study methodology, based on current state policies, effective procedures and costs to determine the "actual cost" of providing students the opportunity for sound basic education.
     The plaintiffs are represented by Michael Rebell of New York.
     Gov. Andrew Cuomo questioned the logic behind the lawsuit this week, saying increased funding alone doesn't necessarily equate with better academic results.
     "We spend more than any other state in the country," Cuomo told The Wall Street Journal. "It ain't about money; it's about how you spend it, and the results."