The state’s highest court Tuesday rejected an argument that sought to establish a statewide claim of school funding inadequacy that deprives students of their right to a basic education.
The decision came in a case brought by families in New York City and Syracuse schools, alleging that inadequate state funding deprived students of their constitutional right to a “sound basic education.” Along with a statewide coalition of education associations and advocacy groups, however, the plaintiffs tried to broaden the scope of their claim into one that alleged state funding levels deprived students in districts across the state of that same right.
“We are trying to establish here that the right that the (earlier) CFE court made clear was so important for kids in New York City in 2003 applies in 2017, that it’s alive and well and can be enforced for kids in New York City and for kids all over the state,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Rebell said after the court heard arguments in the case last month. “That’s what’s at stake here.”
But the state Court of Appeals ruled the plaintiffs need to make claims with “district specificity” and present evidence for “each school district they claim falls below the constitutional minimum” funding levels.
“Our prior Education Article cases have clearly and consistently stated that the type of claims brought here must be pleaded with district specificity to be viable,” the court ruled in a five-judge majority opinion. “Allegations of deficiencies in one, several, or many school districts would not ordinarily serve as sufficient allegations about others.”
Despite the setback, the plaintiffs’ attorneys and other education funding advocates vowed to press forward with the goal of establishing a statewide remedy to what they argue remains a statewide problem. The attorneys and their plaintiffs plan to discuss how to best move forward, potentially presenting evidence for more deficiencies in more districts or bringing new lawsuits.
“We had hoped for a relatively streamlined resolution of these issues; the Court of Appeals hasn’t give us that,” said Doug Schwarz, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, adding that the court did allow the central claims in their complaint to carry forward to a trial court as they relate to New York City and Syracuse specifically. “There is absolutely a door open… I just think it will require more work.”
Billy Easton, director of the Alliance for Quality Education, which advocates for lawmakers to boost funding to high-need school districts like Schenectady, said Tuesday there is no need to wait for another court decision: lawmakers should act to increase funding now.
“(Families and students) shouldn’t have to live through another court case to get what was already decided,” Easton said. “The governor and Legislature cam do what is right by our school kids without another court order.”