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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