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.

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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