Last year, charter school parents in Buffalo and Rochester, NY filed a complaint that alleged that the state’s failure to provide facilities funding for their schools denies them the constitutional right to an opportunity for a sound and basic education guaranteed by Art. XI, § 1 of the state constitution. They claimed that charter schools receive 25% less funding than public schools across the state, and almost 40% less in Western New York. Plaintiffs also argued that charter schools lack essential facilities such as “sufficient classrooms, gymnasiums, libraries, science labs, computer labs, cafeterias, common rooms, employee offices, and athletic fields.”
Although the trial court judge had denied the state’s motion to dismiss the complaint, earlier this month, the Appellate Division, 4th Department, reversed that holding and dismissed the complaint. The appeals court stated that the purpose of the constitution’s sound basic education provision was “to constitutionalize the traditional public school system, not to alter its substance.” The Court held that if the traditional public school system offers students a sound basic education, “then the constitutional mandate is satisfied,” indicating that students who choose to go outside that system by attending charter schools that are “governed by an independent, self-selecting board of trustees and are exempt from a multitude of rules and regulations that are applicable to traditional public schools,” do so without constitutional protection.
The Court further stated that, assuming arguendo that schools in the Buffalo and Rochester city school districts are not providing their students the opportunity for a sound basic education, providing more funding to charter schools cannot be considered a proper remedy for such a deficiency because” to divert public education funds away from the traditional public schools and towards charter schools would benefit a select few at the expense of the “common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated.”