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Lawsuit: State doesn't provide sound education for schoolchildren

A student writes out a math problem on

A student writes out a math problem on a chalkboard. Credit: iStock

A coalition of parents and education advocacy groups, in a lawsuit filed this week, alleges that New York State is failing to provide schoolchildren with a sound education and has not abided by funding parameters established in a ruling by the state's highest court.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, is being brought by 15 parents -- including one from Long Island -- and students from across the state, as well as the New York State Parent Teachers Association, the New York State School Boards Association and the New York State Council of School Superintendents, among several other groups.

The State of New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., are named as defendants.

Melissa DeRosa, a spokeswoman for the governor, said in a statement Wednesday, "New York State's taxpayers currently spend more money per pupil on education than any other state in the nation, yet we continually rank in the middle in terms of performance. The governor will continue to make smart investments in reforming our schools, but as any objective observer can see, money alone is not the answer."

A spokesman for King said his office does not comment on litigation.

The lawsuit stems from an earlier decision, a landmark 2003 victory for New York City schools. The state Court of Appeals ordered the state to figure out the cost of providing city students a "sound, basic education," and to reform the way it distributes funding.

In its decision, the court dismissed much of the state's arguments and found that city students waded through large classes with inexperienced teachers, leading to a high dropout rate and poor test scores, particularly in schools that served a large number of minorities.

Students should have a sufficient number of qualified teachers, up-to-date curricula, adequate resources for those learning English, appropriate class sizes and help for those at risk, the court found.

In 2007, the State Legislature enacted reforms to the state aid system that promised all students billions in aid and a more equitable distribution of state funds.

But the recession caused enormous gaps in the state's budget, and officials took money from education funding, as well as other areas, to help balance the books.

Michael A. Rebell, the Manhattan attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the suit aims to provide immediate fiscal relief for schools that have long suffered state cuts and to order new reforms to state education law and the school financing system to prevent such problems in the future. Rebell was the attorney in the earlier suit, representing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a coalition of advocates.

Rebell said basic state aid for school operations is currently about $4 billion below the amount that the legislature decided seven years ago was needed to provide students with a sound education.

At the same time, employees' health-care costs have soared, and school districts have been grappling with a series of unfunded mandates and a state-imposed cap on the amount of money they can seek from local taxpayers.

Rebell said he will argue that taking funds from the public schools in the manner in which the state has in the past few years is unconstitutional and that the state must reinstate the money.


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