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NY Appeals Court Remands School Funding Case

A year ago a state Supreme Court judge in Albany County had dismissed the claims of parents in eight small city school districts who had alleged that the State of New York was failing its constitutional duty to ensure their children the opportunity for a sound basic education. A unanimous decision of the Appellate Division, Third Department, late last month reversed that decision and sent the case back to the trial court to issue specific findings on whether the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence that inadequate resources were a direct cause of the poor educational outcomes of students in those districts.

After hearing extensive evidence regarding educational problems in each of the eight districts, Justice Kimberly A. O’Connor had determined that although the performance of the students in the plaintiffs’ districts was “not acceptable,” the action that is required is “not in the form of a specific dollar amount, but is instead a blend of funding, oversight, and proper allocation of resources by the districts.” She also held that the detailed analysis of whether there is a causal link between insufficient resource inputs and unacceptable student performance outputs that the Court of Appeals had undertaken in 2003 in CFE v. State of New York when it upheld the plaintiffs’ claims of inadequate funding for students in New York City was no longer necessary because we are now “in the post-CFE environment.”

The Appellate Division strongly rejected the notion there is a “post-CFE environment,” and the indication that the Court of Appeals’ approach to analyzing constitutional deficiencies in CFE applied only to that case. Noting that the Court of Appeals had recently re-affirmed the continued relevance of the CFE precedent for current litigations last June in its decision NYSER-Aristy-Farer v. State , the Court held that Justice O’Connor must now review the voluminous evidence that the parties had presented and provide specific findings of fact for each of the eight school districts regarding the needs of their respective students and undertake an inputs/outputs analysis of the extent to which there is a direct causal link between insufficient state funding and the unsatisfactory performance levels of the students in those districts.

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