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N.Y. Lawsuit Seeks More School Funding for 'Sound Basic Education'

A lawsuit filed in New York state argues that by not funding public schools to the levels promised in 2007 and by cutting K-12 funding over the last several years, state officials have failed to live up to their constitutional obligation to provide an adequate educational experience for students.

"These substantial funding reductions were undertaken without (1) any study of their likely impact on the ability of school districts to provide students the opportunity for a sound basic education, and (2) any guidance to school districts on how they might provide the opportunity for a sound basic education with substantially reduced funds," reads the opening section of the lawsuit, which was filed by New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights and other individual plaintiffs against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state's Board of Regents, and Commissioner of Education John King.

The lawsuit is the next round in a legal battle over education funding that goes back to 1993 and a separate suit pitting the Campaign for Fiscal Equity against the state. Similar to the thrust of the suit filed Feb. 10, the campaign's 1993 lawsuit argued that the state was failing its constitutional and financial obligation to hundreds of thousands of students. That suit culminated ended in 2006, when the state Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiff and mandated funding increases for K-12, with a "floor" of at least a $1.9 billion increase on an annual basis.

In 2007, the legislature agreed to increase funding for public schools largely along the lines of those pushed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who proposed $3.2 billion in new funds for New York City and $4 billion for the rest of the state on an annual basis. 

So what happened next? According to New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights, "After the first two years of the phase-in, however, the state first froze and then dramatically slashed state aid for education." That's a reference to the funding freeze in 2009, followed by $2.7 billion in state K-12 cuts in 2010 and 2011.

Plaintiffs in both the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and the current one, as Lisa Fleisher of the Wall Street Journal points out, have been represented by New York City lawyer Michael Rebell. And what was Cuomo's response to the new suit"We spend more than any other state in the country," he said. "It ain't about the money. It's about how you spend it—and the results."

Among other demands, the plaintiffs seek periodic revisions to the state aid formula to ensure that it is adequate and sound for all districts. They also want the state to identify the essential courses of study and services that must be available to all students in order to meet constitutional obligations, and ensure that the state accountability system measures whether every school has sufficient resources.

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