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N.Y. Advocates: State Needs To Obey 10-Year-Old School Aid Court Order

Mike Groll

It’s been 10 years since New York’s highest court ordered that more state money be paid to schools with the poorest children, but advocates say in the decade since the 2006 ruling, many so-called “high needs” schools have fallen even further behind.

The Alliance for Quality Education looked at the school aid in the state budget allotted to 161 of the poorest schools among the over 700 districts in New York.

The schools were supposed to get around 5.5 billion more dollars in education aid, after the Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. Judges said their education funding was inadequate, that it denied the students their constitutional right to a “sound, basic education.”

The court order was never fulfilled by governors and the legislature over the past decade. AQE’s Billy Easton said that as a result, the rural and urban school districts are still owed a total of $2.8 billion.

“We found that out of 81 percent of high-need districts, that this budget would leave them behind,” said Easton.” And most are way behind.”

In 2007 then Governor Eliot Spitzer and the legislature implemented a four-year plan to phase in the funding required under the court order. But the 2008 recession derailed the program, and it’s never been restored, despite the gradual economic recovery.

In 2016 the State Board of Regents and the Democratic-led state Assembly supported restarting the phase-in, but Governor Cuomo and Republicans in the state Senate did not support it. They contend that the state gave record funding increases to all schools for the past two years.

But Easton said the report found that even at the rate of increase overall in school funding over the past couple of years, it could take decades or longer for the poorest schools to catch up to the amount they are owed under the court order. And he says schools with majority African American and Latino students are faring the worst.

“It would take those districts over five years, or as much as 100 years, to actually get their full funding at the rate that they are going from this budget,” Easton said.

Cuomo, in a conference call with upstate newspaper editorial boards last winter said former Governor Spitzer’s plan to fulfill the court order used an “outrageously high number” for the amount of future funding.

Curtis Sutton is a parent with a son in seventh grade in the Albany City School District. He said he’s seen the effects of inadequate funding, and one of the biggest problems is lack of enough teachers.

“You have a lot of distractions in the class, which take away from the lessons,” Sutton said.

He said his son is doing all right in school because he puts a lot of time into helping him learn, but he says other parents might not be able to do that.  

Sutton said it sends the wrong message to children when adults don’t follow the law and obey a court order. “Stand by your obligations, stand by your commitments,” he urged.   

Alliance for Quality Education, which gets partial funding from the teachers union, said they hope to make the underfunding an issue in the legislative elections in November.

Easton, with AQE, says he’s also hopeful about a newer lawsuit, filed in 2014 by eight small city school districts in New York, now winding its way through the courts. They are demanding that the obligations of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court order be fulfilled.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.