How It Began
In 1993, a group of parents and education advocates concerned about public school funding inadequacies in the State of New York, filed an unprecedented constitutional challenge claiming that the state's school finance system under-funded New York City public schools thereby denying its students their constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. Spearheaded by lawyer Michael A. Rebell and the Hon. Robert Jackson (now Chairperson of the New York City Council Education Committee), the group established a non-profit organization to support the litigation case, and conduct research, advocacy and public engagement on school funding equity and adequacy issues. The organization was named Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. (CFE) and the landmark constitutional challenge, which sought to invalidate the state's school funding formula became known as the CFE v. State of New York lawsuit.
In 1995, CFE won a major victory when the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, ruled that the New York State constitution requires that the state offer all children the opportunity for a "sound basic education." The Court stated that the exact meaning of this standard could only be evaluated and resolved after the case went to trial. In 1999, the case went before State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse, who on January 10, 2001, issued a detailed decision carefully analyzing the evidence gathered during the 7-month trial and found that the state school funding system was unconstitutional. Governor George E. Pataki appealed the decision and on June 25, 2002, the Appellate Division, First Department of the State Supreme Court, reversed the DeGrasse order. The Appellate Court held that the state constitution only guarantees that schools provide the opportunity to learn at an 8th or 9th grade skill level and found that the funding system was therefore sufficient.
CFE appealed the Appelate Court decision and on June 26, 2003, the Court of Appeals overturned the Appellate Division ruling and found in favor of CFE. The Court rejected the 8th grade standard, noting that a "high school education is now all but indispensable" to prepare students for employment and civic engagement. The State failed to comply with a July 30, 2004, deadline to implement reforms, and on August 3,2004, the court appointed three special referees to handle the state's non-compliance and develop a plan that would resolve the funding inadequacies created by the school funding formulas. The referees presented their report and recommendations on November 30, 2004. On February 14, 2005, Justice DeGrasse affirmed their recommendations, concluding that New York City schools needed an additional $5.63 billion in operating aid and $9.2 billion for facilities to provide New York City students their constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education.
On appeal, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the Supreme Court ruling and ordered the State to provide New York City's schools $4.7 to $5.63 billion in operating aid and $9.2 billion in capital funding by April 1, 2006. The 2006-07state budget included capital funding that satisfied the Court's order. However, it did not provide adequate operating aid. CFE once again appealed to the Courts for compliance.
On November 20, 2006, the Court of Appeals issued its final ruling affirming that the state constitution requires that all of the state's children have a right to a "sound basic education" defined as "a meaningful high school education," and that the state has the responsibility to increase funding for New York City's public schools. The ruling deferred to the state's executive and legislative branches to determine the appropriate figure, establishing a minimum funding figure of $1.93 billion adjusted for inflation.
Codification of CFE Victory into Law
Throughout the 13-years of litigation, CFE worked with partnering organizations across the state to ensure that the education finance system reform put into place to provide adequate resources for the opportunity for a sound basic education for New York City's students would be implemented statewide to secure the same opportunity for students throughout the state. CFE engaged in a innovative public engagement process to develop a statewide coalition for reform. The process involved thousands of advocates, educators, school board members, business people, parents, students and community members throughout the state. CFE published extensive studies and reports on school finance policy and education costs. CFE conducted major public education campaigns with our coalition partners. Campaigns like the “Fair Funding, Better Schools” and the“100 Days to Educational Excellence” initiatives. CFE and our partners mobilized parents and education advocates in rallies, community forums and recruitment drives in New York City and communities across New York state.
On April 1, 2007, the New York State Legislature enacted the Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007. The law's historic school finance and accountability reforms are consistent with the policy platform and accountability measures developed by CFE in coordination with its education reform allies and provide the framework for remediation for years of inadequate and inequitable funding for New York’s public schools.
The law mandated: (a) a commitment to raise annual state educational aid by $7 billion by the 2010-11 school year; (b) a foundation formula to distribute aid based on need; (c) strong new input and output accountability requirements; and (d) requirements for public participation in the development, approval and enforcement of the Contracts for Excellence, the law's primary accountability tool.
Following the Education Act’s passage, CFE’s priority became turning CFE law into CFE reality for New York’s public schools and public school students. Public engagement and support continue to be critical elements of our work as the organization moves forward working to ensure that the promise of reform is fulfilled.
Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
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 >