York Governor Changes His Position on Eighth-Grade Standard As Appeal Proceeds
of September 13, the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court,
accepted jurisdiction in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE)
v. State. CFE is appealing the June 25, 2002 Appellate
Court decision, which overturned the January 10, 2001 trial
court ruling of judge Leland DeGrasse, which found New York's school funding
system unconstitutional. The Appellate Division held that New York's Constitution
only requires that the state fund an eighth-grade education. CFE, which submitted
a notice of appeal in July, plans to file its brief in mid-October.
before the parties received notice that the Court of Appeals was taking jurisdiction,
however, the governor announced that he was changing his position on a major issue
in the case. In a September 11 speech to a small group of parents and teachers
at Pace University, Governor George Pataki, who is running for a third term against
Democrat Carl McCall and Independent Tom Golisano, said that an eighth-grade education
is not an adequate minimum standard for New York's schools: "Anybody who thinks
an eighth-grade education is adequate is 100 percent wrong."
remarks contradicted the position that he and the other State defednats have taken
in the CFE since the trial began in October 1999. The Appellate Court's ruling,
including its eighth-grade standard, was consistent with what the governor's lawyers
requested. Although expert witnesses for both sides at the trial had agreed that
the Regents Competency Test ("RCTs") measure "eighth-grade reading and sixth grade
arithmetic skills," attorneys for the State defendants argued in their appellate
brief that the RCTs "serve as a reliable measure of the skills necessary for civic
participation as a voter and juror, which is what the Education article requires."
The State's attorneys, furthermore, have consistently argued that the new Regents'
Learning Standards, which are being phased in to replace the RCTs and must be
mastered by all New York students in order for them to receive high school diplomas,
are "aspirational goals" for which the State is not obligated to ensure adequate
On September 12, CFE responded
to the governor's statement by calling on him to translate his words into action.
Michael Rebell, Executive Director of CFE, urged the governor to "denounce the
appellate court's decision and sit down with CFE to settle the case immediately."
As of September 20, one day after the Alliance
for Quality Education held a press conference calling on the governor to propose
a settlement, a spokesman for Governor Pataki said that the governor might be
ready to talk. "So if they [CFE] have something tangible to offer regarding a
settlement," said Joe Conway, "I'm sure the state's lawyers would be willing to
Prepared September 20, 2002