NY Parents Push for Statewide Relief on Underfunded Schools

(CN) – Fighting a challenge over the state’s underfunding of New York City public schools, an attorney for the state told the New York Court of Appeals that there is no evidence of a widespread crisis.

“Deficiencies in one or two districts do not provide a basis to infer deficiencies in other districts or the need for a remedy affecting other districts, let alone the entire state,” Senior Assistant Solicitor General Andrew Amend argued Tuesday in Albany before New York’s highest court.

The appeal at issue involves three consolidated cases that accuse various state officials of trampling students’ rights to a sound basic education by underfunding of the New York City School District by billions of dollars.

After the Manhattan Supreme Court refused New York’s efforts to dismiss the case, an appellate panel largely affirmed last year, agreeing to dismiss only certain causes of action.

Pushing for a comprehensive dismissal Tuesday, the state’s Amend disputed that the plaintiffs are eligible for statewide relief.

“The diversity of needs, costs and conditions in localities across the state, along with the important element of local control [that] is embedded in the Education Article itself, mean that the denial of dollars from the state is not going to have a uniform impact across districts,” Amend said. “In fact, the degree of impact likely to be very different.”

This argument drew derision, however, from Michael Rebell, an attorney for the parents and the advocacy group that initiated the underlying challenges.

“It’s a literal impossibility for us to take every district in the state that we think is underfunded and run a trial for them,” Rebell said.

“This is the first case to raise the statewide issue, and we’ve done this for good reason because we’ve learned over the last 10 years that this is a statewide issue, that the only way New York City, Syracuse, Yonkers or any other district in the state is going to get an acceptable remedy or is going to get their right to sound basic education, is if the state sets up an adequate statewide formula,”: Rebell added.

Rebell noted that “education has a preferred place in the New York state Constitution,” and that the Legislature has made education funding a special priority to defend statewide.

“The state is taking a position, which they have now stated even more blatantly than they did in their briefs, that it’s impossible for anybody to ever hold the state accountable for deficiency in funding of a sound basic education,” Rebell argued.

Tuesday’s oral argument comes 11 years after the New York State Court of Appeals found that New York’s underfunding of schools violated students constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” as mandated by the Education Article of the New York Constitution. 

The 2006 ruling directed New York to pump $5.5 billion more into basic operating aid for schools statewide between 2007 and 2011.

Rebell told the court Tuesday that state needs to provide a remedy and “set the parameters” to safeguard the rights of the state’s school districts.

Amend meanwhile said that the challengers have only raised specific concerns about the Syracuse and New York City school districts.

He argued that the state should be presumed to be allocating education funds constitutionally unless the challengers can show otherwise.

“As this court has repeatedly held, district-specific allegations of serious educational deficiencies are a core, indispensable element of an Education Article claim,” the state had said in a brief filed with the court ahead of Tuesday’s appeal.

Consisting of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Judges Leslie Stein, Eugene Fahey, Jenny Rivera, Michael Garcia and Rowan Wilson, the Court of Appeals reserved decision on Tuesday’s argument.

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