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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

CFE Urges Justice DeGrasse to Issue an Immediate and Mandatory Order Affirming the Recommendations of the Special Referees

CFE, the State of New York, and the City of New York presented oral arguments before Justice Leland DeGrasse concerning the November 30 recommendations of the panel of judicial referees at a court hearing on Wednesday morning. The panel, appointed by Justice DeGrasse to help bring the state's school funding system into constitutional compliance, concluded that New York City schools need an additional $5.6 billion in operating aid and $9.2 billion in facilities funding to provide their students the education the state constitution guarantees them.

Plaintiffs urged Justice DeGrasse to issue an immediate order and confirm the report of the recommendations, stressing that the State is now in its six month of defying the Court of Appeals' July 30 deadline and that immediate action is vital. Plaintiffs asked the judge to issue his order by Friday, January 14, in advance of the January 18 release of the governor's executive budget. "Unless this court is firm and precise in its order to the legislature and orders a specific amount of money without delay, there will be no end to the State's persistent pattern of constitutional violation," said Joseph Wayland, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs further urged the judge to hold the State of New York in contempt of court and fine it $4.2. million per day (after a 90-day grace period) for its continuing failure to implement a suitable remedy. "We're talking about the lives of 1.1 million children that are irreversibly harmed each day that the State continues to underfund their futures," said Mr. Rebell. "Another year without compliance means that the lives of thousands and thousands will continue to be seriously jeopardized." Citing school funding cases in both New York and other states, Rebell argued that there is strong precedent for courts imposing fines on delinquent legislatures and that a contempt finding and per-day sanction are clearly "necessary and appropriate."

"About 35 states have been involved in similar adequacy cases," Mr. Rebell told the court, "and never has a legislative body been as clearly contemptuous as the New York State legislature. Our governor and legislature completely defaulted on an order from the state's highest court. If the court fails to issue a specific order that includes sanctions, what is going to prevent New York State from continuing to shirk their duty?" Consistent with their brief submitted on December 13, plaintiffs also requested that the judge order the commissioner to issue specific regulations requiring more public involvement in the city's comprehensive planning process.

During its argument, the State of New York maintained its position that the judge should issue a declaratory judgment -- not a mandatory court order -- to resolve the issue of how much money is needed to bring the state's funding system into constitutional compliance. The State also argued that the court would become a lawmaking body for the State of New York if it were to direct the legislature to budget a specified amount for education.

The City of New York, although not a party to the case, was permitted to present oral argument. Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel for the City of New York, requested that the judge confirm the panel's report but urged him to include in his order a statement that prohibits the state from requiring the city to pay any of the increase. "The state," he said, "must be ordered to fund all of it." In response to this request, Joseph Wayland said that "the 1.1 million students in New York City who lack basic resources are not interested in the political divisions between the city and the state. They need resources, and they need them now."

While it moves ahead in the courts to secure meaningful reform of the funding system this year, CFE is working with a task force representing a diverse coalition of statewide organizations to transform the panel's recommendations into a statewide reform bill that will be introduced in the 2005 legislative session.

January 13, 2005

Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >