NY State Supreme Court Greenlights Education-Rights Lawsuit Against State Leaders

Governor Cuomo, the New York State Legislature, and the State Education Department have failed to assess and minimize the harmful impact of budget cuts on the educational rights of New York children. In light of the state’s failure to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities, the Campaign for Educational Equity stepped forward to address those information gaps and join other New Yorkers in advocating for the opportunities we all know our children need and deserve.

Over the past few years, CEE’s research findings and policy proposals have been used by policymakers, parents, activists, educators, advocacy groups, and other stakeholders throughout the state. One organization that has utilized our work is New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER), a coalition of families and major education organizations that sued the State of New York in February on behalf of students who have been denied an adequate education.

Earlier this week, the New York State Supreme Court rejected a motion by the state’s attorneys to dismiss the NYSER litigation, which means the case is likely headed to trial, although there may be some further delays if the state appeals this ruling.

Read more about this important new development in the excerpt below from a November 18th NYSER press release, and please stay tuned for more updates about this and other efforts to defend and advance New York students’ educational rights.

STATE SUPREME COURT FINDS FOR PLAINTIFFS IN MAJOR SCHOOL FUNDING CASE

Rejecting the state’s attempt to dismiss a major litigation seeking to enforce the funding and other constitutional mandates established in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York (CFElitigation, Justice Manuel J. Mendez of the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, issued an order today that upholds the right of the plaintiffs in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) to proceed with their litigation against the state, and against Governor Andrew Cuomo and other state defendants.

The NYSER litigation, filed earlier this year, alleges that in 2007, following the Court of Appeals’ final decision in CFE, the governor and the state legislature enacted a major reform act that committed the state to increasing funding for students in the New York City public schools by approximately $5 billion per year, and for students in the rest of the state by approximately $4 billion per year, all to be phased in over a four-year period. Since 2009, however, the state has reneged on these commitments. Although the state has never repealed the 2007 legislation, it has failed to fund schools in accordance with its foundation formula. Despite some increases in state funding for education over the past few years, the state is still $5.6 billion short of the amounts owed under that formula, according to the plaintiffs.

Referring specifically to some of the devices and mechanisms the state has used to reduce its education appropriations, Justice Mendez held that “the ‘gap elimination adjustment’…. the cap on state-aid increases, the supermajority requirements concerning increases in local property tax levies,” together with penalty provisions imposed on New York City students last year in connection with the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system, all “could potentially be found irrational, arbitrary or capricious and capable of preventing a sound basic education.”

The court also held that “The claims asserted by plaintiffs are not tenuous, there is a potential risk of harm to public school students and to school districts derived from financial distress.”

Justice Mendez also rejected the state’s claim that individual plaintiffs from all of the approximately 700 school districts in the state would need to participate for plaintiffs to proceed with this lawsuit and that NYSER as an organization lacked standing to sue. He held that “This Court will not ‘close the courthouse doors’ on the individual plaintiffs’ potentially viable constitutional claims affecting schoolchildren in New York State,” and that NYSER, whose “stated mission is to ensure that all students in the State of New York receive the opportunity for a sound basic education” also has standing.

The state now has 20 days to file an answer to the complaint, after which preparations for trial can commence.  

To read the full press release, click here.

Coalition Calls for Co-Location Moratorium — Letter to Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña

November 13, 2014

Mayor Bill de Blasio
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Chancellor Carmen Fariña
New York City Department of Education
Tweed Courthouse
52 Chambers Street,
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña:

The recently released report of the School Space Working Group contains many important recommendations; most critical perhaps are those emphasizing ensuring adequate space in all schools to provide students with disabilities all of the resources, services, and supports to which they are entitled. The group’s recommendations do not, the report acknowledges, address other critical issues of the impact of some co-locations on students’ basic educational rights, issues that disparately affect students with extra educational needs and challenges.

For this reason, we write today to urge you to place a moratorium on proposing any new co-locations until the student rights’ violations in existing co-located schools have been substantially remedied. Many students in New York City are currently constrained by space limitations from receiving the resources necessary for a sound basic education, including smaller classes, the full complement of cluster, specialty, and resource rooms necessary for the full Regents-required curriculum and required academic intervention services, and dedicated spaces for English language learners and students with disabilities to receive their mandated services. Students must also have access to the cafeteria, the library, and the gymnasium at appropriate times and for at least the state-mandated minimum periods.

This moratorium is not intended to interfere with placing District 75 programs in schools as needed in order to improve inclusion opportunities for students with disabilities and ensure that their needs are addressed. We also support the planned co-location of a D75 school in a newly constructed building.  However, even such co-locations must in the future be implemented with true community engagement and a comprehensive plan for ensuring that D75 and other students receive at least the full complement of basic educational resources to which they are entitled.

Through site visits and interviews with dozens of staff in a sample of high-need schools, the Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE) has documented how, in some schools, co-locations exacerbated resource constraints and deprived students of critical programs and services, and that some principals have had to spend 20-80% of their professional time negotiating over access to space and addressing building-wide safety matters, depriving their educators and students of valuable instructional leadership and support. The CEE study further revealed how some co-locations have undermined NYC students’ right to a sound basic education by subjecting students to inadequate facilities, oversized classes, inadequate course offerings, and insufficient support that in many cases violate state statutory, regulatory, and constitutional requirements.

Other reports from Class Size Matters and the City Comptroller have delineated the worsening overcrowding crisis in our schools. Co-locations, whether in the case of district public schools or charter schools, have exacerbated overcrowding by subtracting classrooms in the process of replicating administrative and specialty rooms and restricting access to shared spaces. In addition, the current building-utilization formula is widely recognized as underestimating the actual level of overcrowding in our schools by not properly accounting for the need for class sizes consistent with constitutional parameters and other factors necessary for an adequate opportunity to learn.

As immediate next steps during the moratorium, the New York City Department of Education should:

  • Assess the prevalence and extent of the violations of students’ rights in schools in which co-location is currently taking place or in which new co-locations are being considered.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • Amend the educational impact statement (EIS) to include a review of the impact of any proposed co-location on students’ sound-basic-education rights.
  • Quantify the number of personnel, including administrators and safety personnel that must be added in order to administer building issues resulting from co-location.

Finally, the current rights-related problems with co-locations extend beyond charter schools and can be found in buildings housing only co-located district schools. However, to the extent that the procedures and reforms that we recommend may obligate the city, in accordance with recently enacted state statutes regarding siting for charter schools, to make additional rental payments for charter operators who will need to find space in private facilities, the city should pay those amounts, rather than deprive district-school or charter-school students of their constitutional right to an adequate opportunity to learn. We also believe that the city should assiduously urge our legislators to amend the law to require the state to cover the full cost of charter-school rentals, as it was the state that imposed this financial burden on the city.

Yours sincerely,

Deborah Alexander, member, Community Education Council District 30
Teresa Arboleda, President, Citywide Council on English Language Learners*
Miriam Aristy-Farer, President, Community Education Council District 6
Isaac Carmignani, Co-President, Community Education Council District 30*
Gloria Corsino, President, Citywide Council for District 75*
Dr. Vera Daniels, President, Community Education Council District 28*
Lisa Donlan, President, Community Education Council District 1
Shenell Evans, Secretary, Community Education Council District 6
Joseph A. Fiordaliso, President, Community Education Council District 3*
Fe Florimon, member, Community Education Council 6, MBP Appointee
Tory Frye, member, Community Education Council District 6
Angela Garces, member, Community Education Council District 6
David Goldsmith, President, Community Education Council District 13
Jeffrey Guyton, Co-President, Community Education Council District 30*
Noah E. Gotbaum, Vice President, Community Education Council District 3
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters
Alicia Hyndman, Treasurer, Community Education Council District 29
Nicole Job, President, Community Education Council District 17
Ann Kittredge, member, Community Education Council District, District 28
Victoria Medelius, member, Community Education Council District 30
LaTonia McMillan, member, Community Education Council District 31
Lakeisha Moffatt, member, Community Education Council District 17
Sarah Morgridge, member, Blue Book Working Group*
Sonni Mun, member, Community Education Council District 2
Valarie Lamour, member, Community Education Council District 30
Michael Rebell, Executive Director, Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University
Naila Rosario, President, Community Education Council District 15
Tamara Rowe, member, Community Education Council District 2
Amy Shire, member, Community Education Council District 13
Arthur Schwartz, President, Advocates for Justice
Shino Tanikawa, President, Community Education Council District 2*
Rashidah White, President, Community Education Council District 5
Tesa Wilson, President, Community Education Council District 14

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.