Invoking students’ constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education, parents in the East Ramapo school district in New York State filed a petition in the State Supreme Court, Albany County asking the Court to order the State Board of Regents and the State Education Commissioner to take immediate action to implement recommendations from a series of Monitors’ and State Education Department staff reports findings from the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education that have highlighted mismanagement and discriminatory actions of the district’s board of Education.
Education policy in East Ramapo is heavily influenced by its unique demographic patterns. Approximately 24,000 of the district’s 33,000 students attend private, Orthodox Jewish Yeshivas. The remaining 9.000 students are largely low-income African-American, Latino and Haitian and 27% are English language learners. According to the petition, since 2005, the majority of the members of the school board have been Orthodox Jews.
The petition describes numerous State investigations and reports documenting a continuing pattern of fiscal mismanagement and neglect by the East Ramapo Board of Education over the last decade. It claims that the Board’s mismanagement has resulted in a severe lack of critical educational resources, resulting in poor student outcomes. The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR) also issued findings regarding discriminatory actions taken by the district’s board of education, and the board recently entered into a resolution agreement with OCR. There also are allegations that the board has favored private school students and provided disproportionate funding to the private schools to the detriment of the public school students. The reports also indicate that the district continues to experience severe fiscal stress.
Although the last monitoring report was issued in December, 2015, and the Regents accepted the monitors’ recommendations, the petitioners’ patience has apparently worn thin and they are asking the Court to order the Defendants to implement the monitors’ recommendations and take other appropriate action.
The New York Court of Appeals has held that the sound basic education clause of the New York State Constitution (Art XI, §1) requires the state to ensure sufficient funding to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education to all students in the state (Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of New York), but the Court has not yet determined whether that right extends to situations not involving education funding claims.