New York Students’ Rights Get a Day in Court

Over the past few years, the Campaign for Educational Equity’s independent research findings and policy proposals have been reviewed and utilized by parent and youth activists, educators, advocacy groups, lawyers, legislators, and others throughout New York State and far beyond. These groups have used our information to advance the cause of educational equity for all children in a variety of ways, including in the courts.

One of the organizations that has made extensive use of our work is New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights, which this past February sued the State of New York on behalf of students who have been denied an adequate education by the state.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014, Justice Manuel J. Mendez of the New York State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments regarding the state’s motion to dismiss in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. the State of New York. This case is a follow-up to the landmark decision, Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. the State of New York, in which the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled that students in New York City were being denied their constitutional right to the opportunity for a “sound basic education.” That constitutional right applies, of course, to all students in the State of New York.

In order to comply with the court’s order, the state legislature in 2007 reformed the system for funding public education and committed the state to increasing funding by $5 billion for New York City’s schools and $4 billion for the rest of the state, to be phased in over a four-year period. Although the state met its obligations for the first two years, once the recession took effect in 2009, the state first froze further increases and then drastically cut state aid for education. Despite incremental increases in school funding over the past few years, the state is still over $5 billion short of providing the amounts that the legislature itself determined to be necessary to provide all students at least a sound basic education.

Last spring, after a coalition of statewide and citywide organizations and about a dozen individual parents filed the NYSER complaint, the state filed a “motion to dismiss.” In it they argued, among other things, that NYSER and the individual plaintiffs lack standing to bring this statewide suit, and that because New York State spends more money on education than any other state, it is meeting its constitutional obligations. The plaintiffs filed a reply brief that argued that their standing is clear, since NYSER and the individual parents, have the same status as did CFE and individual plaintiffs in that landmark case, that amounts spent in other states are irrelevant to constitutional issues in New York State, and that, since the state is not funding its own formula and has not undertaken a new cost study in the past 10 years, it clearly is not complying with the courts’ orders in CFE. Moreover, they claim, the state is not even in a position to assert that it is in constitutional compliance, since it has undertaken no surveys or school visits to assess the educational impact of the deep cuts they made during the recession and what services students in New York City and other parts of the state are currently receiving. (Copies of all of the papers filed in the NYSER litigation are available at www.nyser.org. The plaintiff attorneys are Michael A. Rebell and a four-person team from Bingham McCutchen LLP.)

All of these issues will be argued in detail in the court hearing this coming Wednesday. The public is invited to attend. The argument is scheduled to begin at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, October 22nd, at the Supreme Court Annex building, 71 Thomas Street (between West Broadway and Church Streets), in lower Manhattan, courtroom of Justice Manuel J. Mendez.

Please stay tuned for more updates about the NYSER case, related cases ongoing in New York, as well the other individuals and organizations that are using our work to fight with and for students, parents, and communities.

Social Studies: A Right, Not a Privilege – Chancellor Fariña Promises to Reinstate Social Studies

Our team read with great relief that NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has acknowledged the horrifying fact that “a lot” of NYC elementary and middle schools have dropped social studies. She makes it crystal clear that, under her administration, depriving students of a strong social-studies curriculum is unacceptable. Her remarks, however, fall short of explaining why so many schools dropped or skimped on a subject as essential as social studies.

The truth is that state funding to schools fell dramatically at the same time as the state ramped up pressure for students to perform on high-stakes standardized tests in English and math. With bare-bones budgets, school-level educators and administrators in New York City and other underfunded school districts had no choice but to look for ways to cut corners. Students have paid the price. Many students lost not only social studies, but instructional time and supports in other important subjects as well; science, the arts, physical education, library sciences, foreign languages, and family and career studies.

The chancellor should get credit for speaking out about the educational neglect that thousands of New York children experience every day. She is right about how important it is that students “don’t think everything begins and ends in their local neighborhoods.” But let’s be clear: providing students with the social studies curriculum and essential related activities, like field trips, that they need to become capable civic participants or, as Fariña calls them, “global citizens,” isn’t just the right thing to do—these learning opportunities are part of the sound basic education to which all New York students have a right.

Ensuring that all children and families, not just a select few, receive ample access to these opportunities will require more money. Where in the NYC Department of Education’s current budget will this money for social studies come from? Is there sufficient funding in the current budget to enrich social studies and also reinstate arts education, hire librarians, provide physical education and languages other than English, and ensure needed supports for English language learners, among many other essential opportunities and supports to which thousands of students currently lack sufficient access?

Social studies is vitally important. And, since taking office, the chancellor has made a number of other exciting but piecemeal promises about the types and quality of learning opportunities that students can expect under her leadership. What we have yet to see is the new NYC DOE’s vision to ensure all students the full range of learning opportunities to which they are entitled. What is the timeline and strategy for investigating and addressing the full set of constitutional violations that continue to undermine educational opportunities?

At some point, the city must acknowledge publicly that to honor these promises to respect the state constitution and to restore the all of the essentials that make up students’ right to the “opportunity for a sound basic education” will require that New York State make good on its school-funding obligations. Each day that the chancellor and the mayor delay joining CEE, students, parents, and advocacy allies throughout the state in calling on the state government to fulfill its constitutional obligation is another day of missed opportunities for New York children.

What to look for in the forthcoming School Space Working Group’s report

This past spring, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio convened a “School Space Working Group” comprising a diverse group of education stakeholders and charged it with “recommending long-term solutions to alleviate overcrowding, foster positive outcomes in future co-locations [single school buildings housing several schools], and develop partnerships that make the best use of all of the city’s space and resources for our schools.”

In June, the Campaign for Educational Equity published a report describing how, at least in some schools, co-location has undermined students’ educational rights by exacerbating facilities problems, consuming administrators’ time, and constraining schools’ ability to provide necessary course offerings and student supports.

Following many private discussions, the School Space Working Group should soon deliver its findings and recommendations to the public. We hope that these critical issues are addressed.

In anticipation of this forthcoming report, we again share our recommendations to Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña. We hope that the working group’s report includes bold steps to do the following:
 

  1. Assess the prevalence and extent of the violations of students’ rights in co-located schools.

  2. Broadly disseminate information about the resources, services, and supports to which all students in all schools are entitled under state statute, regulations and constitutional law. Parents, students, educators, policymakers, and the community at large must understand that all sound basic education requirements apply whatever the school size or configuration.
     

  3. Review and revise the Instructional Footprint to ensure sufficient classrooms, gymnasiums, laboratories, libraries, and other instructional spaces, cafeterias, offices, and storage for all schools to meet all sound-basic-education requirements, including appropriate class sizes and suitable curricula.
     

  4. Amend the educational impact statement (EIS) to include a review of the impact of any proposed co-location on students’ sound-basic-education rights.
     

  5. Quantify the number of personnel, including administrators and safety personnel, that must be added in order to administer building issues resulting from co-location.
     

  6. Impose a moratorium on all new co-locations until the rights violations in all existing schools are remedied.

 

New York State Receives $3 Billion

New York State will receive a $3 billion windfall from the $9 billion that the French bank BNP Paribas must pay for violating sanctions on transferring money to Sudan, Cuba, and Iran. The state senate has begun brainstorming how the money should be spent including accelerating tax cuts and phasing out utility taxes.

CEE suggests instead that Gov. Cuomo and fellow state policymakers should use these funds to increase foundation aid for schools and eliminate the GEA. The GEA or “gap elimination adjustment” is a budgetary device the state uses cover the “gap” between what is due to the schools and the state’s available revenue. Investing $1 billion on each project would go a long way for students’ educational rights and opportunities and bring the state closer to accomplishing a sound basic education for all.
Education is infrastructure — human capital. It is time that New York make its students a priority.
To read more about the recent source of revenue, click here.

New York Plaintiffs Ask for Immediate $1 Billion

Claiming that a statute that allows the state to deduct over $ 1 billion from amounts that the state funding formula calculates to be due to school districts is “unconstitutional on its face,” the plaintiffs in NYSER v. State of New York filed a motion for a preliminary injunction late last month that asks the court to restore the $1 billion immediately, even before the case goes to trial. The complaint in the case, filed in February, seeks to compel the state to fully comply with the orders of the New York Court of Appeals in CFE v. State of New York and with Article XI § 1 of the State Constitution that guarantees all students the right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. The full relief that plaintiffs seek could amount to over $5 billion.

In the Preliminary Injunction Motion, the plaintiffs challenge a “gap elimination adjustment” (GEA), a budgetary device the state uses cover the “gap” between what is due to the schools and the state’s available revenues. Plaintiffs are also claiming that a cap on the amount that the education budget can be increased each year and a supermajority voting requirements that essentially “caps” any property tax increases over 2% or the last year’s inflation increase, whichever is lower, also are facially unconstitutional. The argument is based on the Court of Appeals’ holding that the state is obligated to provide schools the “actual cost” of a sound basic education.

The defendants have made an immediate motion to change the court in which the motion will be heard from New York City to Albany. Plaintiffs are resisting that change. The Court has set will hear arguments on the change of venue motion on July 29, 2014.

The NYSER plaintiffs include nine New York City parents, eight parents from other urban, suburban and rural districts throughout the state, and New Yorkers for Students Educational Rights (“NYSER”), an unincorporated association whose members include 11 of New York City’s 32 community education councils, the New York State School Boards Association, the 2 New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State PTA, the New York State Association of School Business Officials, the Statewide School Finance Consortium, the Rural Schools Association and a variety of parent and educational advocacy groups.

The defendants are the State of New York and Governor Andrew Cuomo, the State Board of Regents, and John B. King, Commissioner of Education.

New York City’s Continuing Budget Shortfalls Violate Students’ Rights

For the next school year, New York City’s schools will receive their largest increase in state aid for basic school operations in five years — approximately $350 million — but the operating budget for almost all of the schools will be the same as last year. The increase in state aid has been earmarked for the following categories in the mayor’s budget that was approved in principle with slight modifications by the City Council last week:

Expansion of After-School Programs               $145 million
Charter Schools                                                $93 million
Expanded Arts Instruction                                $23 million
English Language Learners                              $13 million
Teacher Evaluation                                           $18 million
School Technology                                           $20 million
Funding for New Schools                                  $10 million
Facilities Improvements                                    $10 million
Miscellaneous                                                    $12 million

Certainly, increasing funding for the expansion of after-school programs, additional funding for English language learners, and other programs slated to receive these increases are important initiatives that deserve at least this level of support. The $300 million in new state funding for a major expansion of full day pre-kindergarten programs — which is being provided outside the regular state aid for education budget — is also a welcome and long-overdue augmentation of educational opportunities for the city’s children.

But the fact remains that, at the building level, principals and teachers who for years have been struggling with inadequate resources to provide their students the opportunity for a sound basic education that is every child’s right under the state constitution will feel little relief in the months to come. Throughout the city, class sizes will remain far above reasonable levels, students needing extra assistance will not get the academic intervention services called for in the commissioner’s regulations, required course offerings, not to mention electives and extracurricular activities will be limited, and guidance counselors, social workers, and other vital support staff will be in short supply. (For a detailed description of the lack of basic educational services in high needs schools in New York City and throughout the state, see Deficient Resources (Campaign for Educational Equity, 2012), available at http://www.equitycampaign.org/index.asp?Id=PUBLICATIONS&Info=Essential+and+Deficient+Resources+Reports. For user-friendly briefs on students’ educational rights, see CEE’s Know Your Educational Rights series, available at http://www.equitycampaign.org/index.asp?Id=PUBLICATIONS&Info=Know+Your+Educational+Rights+Handouts).

The root of this problem is the state’s failure to comply with the constitution and with the orders of the Court of Appeals in the CFE v. State of New York litigation.  In 2007, following the court’s finding that students in New York City were being denied their constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education, the governor and the legislature adopted a new funding system that promised to provide students in the City over $5 billion in increased state aid, to be phased in over the next four years. The state meet that obligation for the first two years, but then, starting in 2009 after the recession hit, the state first froze further increases and then began to slash aid appropriations dramatically. The “increases” that the legislature has approved for the past few years are really not increases at all, but reductions in the continuing pattern of budget cuts. As of next year, the state aid for New York City’s school children will still be about $2.2 billion below the level of annual funding called for under the foundation formula.

Plaintiffs in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York, a recently filed lawsuit, are trying to remedy this situation (Michael Rebell, executive director of CEE, is pro-bono co-counsel for the plaintiffs). They are asking the State Supreme Court to enforce compliance with the CFE decisions. This week, they filed a preliminary injunction motion (see http://www.nyser.org/preliminary-injunction-motion.html) that asks the judge to prohibit the state from continuing to implement their “gap elimination adjustment” (GEA), a method the state has used since the recession to subtract money from state education aid to fill a “gap” in state revenues. This year, when the state has no “gap” and is implementing $2 billion in new tax cuts, continued use of the GEA is particularly unconscionable. If plaintiffs prevail on this motion, the city’s schools would get an immediate $250 funding increase. Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña need to join the NYSER plaintiffs in demanding that the state cease its unconstitutional and unfair tactics and provide sufficient funding to allow all of the city’s schools to provide their students the full range of educational opportunities to which they are entitled.

Know Your Educational Rights: English Language Learners

Under New York State law, all English language learners (ELLs) have a right to the resources, services, and supports they need to be able to achieve the same educational goals and meet the same standards as the general student population.

ImageTo help parents, educators, students, and advocates understand exactly what this means, CEE is pleased to announce the release of Know Your Rights: English Language Learner Resource Requirements/Conozcan Sus Derechos: Estudiantes Que Aprenden Inglés –  Recursos RequeridosThis user-friendly brief describes the rights of ELLs and the specific services and supports that all New York schools must be able to provide for these students. The handout also details our findings of ELL-related resource deficiencies in a study of 33 high-need schools throughout the state.Recently, at the NYC Department of Education’s 11th Annual English Language Learner Parent Conference, hundreds of parents got a preview of these handouts. (View the photos on our Facebook page here!)

Our goal with this and the other handouts in our Know Your Educational Rights series is to empower parents, students, educators, and other stakeholders to make sure that students actually receive the services and supports to which they are entitled. But this will happen only if people know about them.

Please help share these handouts widely by sharing this link on Facebook and Twitter, and printing copies to hand out at community meetings. Thank you in advance for your partnership and for your ongoing commitment to New York’s young people.