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NY top court denies claim that schools statewide are shortchanged

Judge Rowan Wilson, seen on June 1, 2017.

Judge Rowan Wilson, seen on June 1, 2017. Photo Credit: NYS Court of Appeals

ALBANY

New York’s top court largely denied a claim Tuesday that alleged that state leaders had never made good on a landmark school funding case.

The Court of Appeals dismissed the bulk of a lawsuit contending the state hasn’t lived up to a 2006 court mandate to increase funding for New York City schools by $1.9 billion, and by extension, funding for school districts throughout the state.

The court, in a 5-1 decision, said the plaintiffs (an education advocacy group) couldn’t bring a claim alleging that school had been shortchanged statewide. Such claims, Judge Rowan Wilson wrote for the majority, must be brought on a district-by-district basis and show that students have been denied a “sound, basic” education guaranteed by the state constitution.

“Plaintiffs must plead some facts as to each school district they claim falls below the constitutional minimum,” Wilson wrote. “Here, drawing every inference in favor of the plaintiffs, it is not possible to infer that all — or even most — school districts in the state fall below the constitutional floor, and plaintiffs concede that many school districts are not deficient.”

The court, however, said that part of the case involving specific claims by New York City and Syracuse school districts could go forward.

“Plaintiffs contend that requiring proof on a district-by-district basis could be difficult, if not impossible, and therefore reason they should be able to prove a statewide violation by adducing evidence as to some districts of their choosing,” Wilson continued. “However, our precedent requires district-specific pleading for claims of this nature, which plaintiffs here have set forth for New York City and Syracuse only.”

The Cuomo administration, which had been accused by advocates of not following through on the CFE mandate, sought to declare victory and said the court rejected the “false claims paid lobbyists have been peddling around Albany for years.”

“The truth is that New York dedicates more money per-pupil to education than any other state — including over $25.8 billion in this year’s budget — and we’ll continue to work to strengthen our public schools and provide New York children with the education they deserve,” Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said.

Advocates noted they can still pursue the heart of their claim, even if on a district-by-district basis.

“We had hope for a relatively streamlined resolution of these issues. The court hasn’t given us that but it has says all of our essential claims are still viable,” said Doug Schwartz, one of the advocates’ attorneys. He said they are considering continuing the case for New York City and Syracuse and could also widen it.

“There are a lot of high-needs districts in the state . . . that are not receiving funding to provide a sound, basic education,” Schwartz said. “If it means adding other districts, either to this case or bringing other cases, those all options on the table.”

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