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.

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