Fifteen parents from throughout New York State, along with a coalition of statewide education groups, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the state’s public school students, charging that the state is neglecting its constitutional obligation to ensure that every school has sufficient funding to provide all students a meaningful educational opportunity. The suit, entitled New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. the State of New York, is being led by Michael A. Rebell, who successfully litigated the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. the State of New York case. Rebell is also the Executive Director of the National Access Network.
The suit alleges that, in many schools around the state, schools are unable to provide students with the full range of resources that are constitutionally required because of limited budgets. In these schools, students share textbooks and cannot take books home after school. Classrooms are overcrowded at a time when higher standards require even more individualized support. Tutoring and other supports for students who are struggling academically are rationed only to a few children. Advanced and AP classes, art and music programs, and important extracurricular activities like school government and school newspaper have been severely cut back or eliminated in many schools. College and career counseling is nonexistent in many places. Even state-required instruction in areas like science, social studies, physical education, and foreign languages has been curtailed.
Basic state aid for school operations is now almost $4 billion below the amount that the legislature decided in 2007 was necessary to provide students the opportunity for a sound basic education as a result of the CFE case. In CFE, the Court of Appeals declared that the state constitution entitles all students in New York State to a meaningful high school education that prepares them to be capable citizens and competitive workers. The Court found that students in New York City were not receiving such a high quality education and ordered the state to increase funding for the city schools. Following CFE, in 2007, the state legislature enacted reforms to the state aid system that promised students, not only in New York City, but throughout the state, billions of dollars in increased funding and a more equitable distribution of state aid. Since the recession of 2008, however, the state has not lived up to these commitments.
“In spite of the persistent demands of parents, students, educators, and advocates, the state government has continued to neglect its responsibility to our students,” said Rebell. “The governor’s education reform commission, on which I sat, refused to even consider these issues. We have no other recourse but to go back to court. Too many of our children will continue to suffer the lifelong consequences of an inadequate education – and New York will continue to bear this economic burden – if we do not take action now.”
In contrast to CFE litigation which involved only students in the City of New York, the new NYSER litigation is being brought on behalf of students from throughout the state. The members of the NYSER coalition include the state’s PTA organization, the state school boards association, the state superintendents association, and parent and advocacy groups from New York City, Syracuse and other parts of the state. The defendants are the State of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Board of Regents, and State Education Commissioner John King.
The lawsuit seeks preliminary relief and an immediate funding increase by asking the court to invalidate several caps and funding adjustments that the plaintiffs claim are unconstitutional on their face, as well as a series of structural reforms that would ensure that now and for the future every school is provided adequate funding and is able provide all students a meaningful educational opportunity.
February 12, 2014