“Constitutional rights cannot be put on hold because of a recession” is the legal conclusion reached by every federal and state court that has considered this issue in years past and since the 2008 recession, writes Michael A. Rebell in an extensive treatise that was just published in the Albany Law Review. Safeguarding Sound Basic Education, 75 Alb L. Rev 1855(2012). Rebell, a lawyer, who is the Executive Director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University and of the National Education Access Network, cautions, however, that judges are sensitive to changed economic circumstances, and that to succeed in future cases advocates and attorneys will need to be cost-conscious. They need to demonstrate that the funding levels they seek in order to provide meaningful educational opportunities to all students are based on cost-efficient and cost-effective educational practices. Rebell offers five possible ways that costs can be reduced without detrimentally affecting services to students.
The article is national in scope, and reviews all of the relevant federal and state cases. It also provides a detailed case study of recent developments in New York State to illustrate the basic themes. In responding to budgetary pressures, New York has substantially reduced state aid, without demonstrating that current funding levels are based on the “actual cost” of a sound basic education, as required by the court’s ruling in CFE v. State of New York. The state has compounded these constitutional violations by imposing arbitrary caps on future state aid appropriations and on local property tax increases. Although the state might be able to justify funding levels below those promised by the legislature in 2007 in response to the CFE ruling, through mandate relief and appropriate cost-effectiveness policies, the state has a constitutional burden of proof to demonstrate that all public school students are, in fact, receiving the opportunity for a sound basic education.