Late last month, New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, denied the state’s motion to dismiss the complaint in New Yorkers for Students Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State of New York, but, at the same time, it rejected the plaintiffs’ efforts to litigate the education adequacy issues raised on a statewide rather than on a district-by-district basis.
Plaintiffs’ claims, in this case, are based on the Court of Appeals’ three prior rulings in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York in which the Court held that the state has an obligation to “ensure the availability of a ‘sound basic education’ to all its children.” In 2007, responding to the CFE decisions, the state adopted a needs-based state-wide foundation aid formula, but since the 2008 recession, it has failed to fully fund that formula, nor has it created any alternative constitutionally-valid funding system. Currently, state funding is almost $4 billion below the amounts called for in the foundation aid formula.
The court’s decision on the motion to dismiss held that plaintiffs had pleaded viable claims regarding the state’s failure to provide a meaningful opportunity for a sound basic education for students in New York City and Syracuse, the two school districts that plaintiffs had discussed in detail for illustrative purposes, and that the case can proceed to trial in regard to those districts. In order to extend any remedy issued in the case to include other school districts in the state, however, plaintiffs would need to present evidence regarding the specific facts in those districts also. Plaintiffs are now considering whether to add facts concerning other school districts to the case. It should also be noted that although the Court’s remedy in the CFE litigation technically applied only to New York City, the legislature, in responding to the Court order there, developed a new, more equitable state education funding system that fully applied to all districts in the state, and not just to New York City.
The plaintiffs in NYSER v. State of New York are 25 parents from New York City and from urban, suburban and rural districts throughout the state, and NYSER, an organization whose members include the New York State School Boards Association, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State PTA, the New York State Association of School Business Officials, the Statewide School Finance Consortium, the Rural Schools Association, 11 of New York City’s Community Education Councils, and a number of parent groups and advocacy groups around the state.