Statewide Implications of June 27th New York Court of Appeals Educational-Equity Decision

Courtroom_of_the_New_York_Court_of_AppealsOn Tuesday, June, 27, 2017, the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, issued a decision upholding the viability of all of the plaintiffs’ essential claims in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York. The court held that the case could proceed to trial to provide evidence to prove those claims for New York City and Syracuse. (Click here to read the full decision.)

The court clearly affirmed that all students in the state of New York have a constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. For plaintiffs to extend their essential claims beyond New York City and Syracuse to other districts statewide, they must provide further evidence on a district-by-district basis.

The court’s ruling underscores the importance of understanding how resource inequities and inadequacies affect students at the school level. Evidence presented by the NYSER plaintiffs drew on in-depth school-level research conducted by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, to assess the availability of basic educational resources in selected school districts around the state. Information about school-level resources helps policymakers, educators, families, and the courts both assess constitutional compliance and support continuous improvement.

Last fall, the Campaign for Educational Equity (CEE) released a series of reports to help guide state policymakers to develop a constitutional education-resource system. The series includes a research-based policy roadmap entitled Ensuring Resource Accountability that provides recommendations for improved monitoring of the availability of adequate learning opportunities for all students in every New York school.

CEE continues to contribute research, legal analysis, policy development, and public engagement to define and secure the full range of resources, supports, and services necessary to honor students’ right to be prepared for college, careers, and civic participation.

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CEE’s Parent and Student Partners Attend NY Court of Appeals Hearing re: Educational Rights

Court of Appeals

On May 30th, the Campaign for Educational Equity hosted a group of parent and student partners on a trip to Albany to hear oral arguments for New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York at the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court.

NYSER v. State is a lawsuit that was filed in February 2014—against the State of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and state education officials—on behalf of New York’s public school students. The plaintiffs include several families from across New York State, as well as New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER), a statewide coalition of stakeholder groups that formed to bring the lawsuit. The plaintiffs charge that the state is violating students’ educational rights by neglecting its constitutional obligation to ensure that every school has sufficient funding to provide all students with meaningful educational opportunity.

The May 30th hearing was scheduled after the state appealed a lower court’s ruling against its motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ charges. The state argues that it does not owe schools additional funding; that it does not have a constitutional obligation to change the way it distributes school funding (its foundation aid formula); and that the plaintiffs’ claims not apply to all of the state’s 700-plus districts, but only to New York City and Syracuse.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs articulated the importance of applying their claims to the entire state, the amount of money still owed based on the 2006 CFE ruling, and the obligation to reassess the education-funding formula so that all schools receive adequate funding to provide a meaningful education to all students. The NYSER case is the first case on behalf of all underfunded school districts in New York State rather than limited to certain school districts.

The Court of Appeals’ decision on the lower court’s ruling against the state’s motion to dismiss is expected in late June or early July.

Following the hearing, Chief Judge DiFiore joined our youth and parent collaborators as well as a student group from Yonkers High School to discuss the role of the Court of Appeals in a broader civic context. Although protocol prohibited the chief judge from discussing the NYSER case in that particular setting, the opportunity for our partners to witness the oral arguments and speak with the chief judge enhanced their understanding of education law, how the legal system interacts with policy and political systems, and how parents, students, and other stakeholders can use civic skills to influence the decision-making process.

NYSER is one of many groups that has made use of the Campaign for Educational Equity’s school-based research, legal analysis, and policy development regarding resource inequities affecting New York schools. Interested in learning more about our collaborative efforts to define and secure the full range of resources, supports, and services necessary to guarantee all children, particularly children in poverty and children of color, a meaningful education? Visit the Focus Areas section of our website: http://www.equitycampaign.org/areas-of-focus.