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Lawsuit filed against New York state over alleged inadequate funding in public schools

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A lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of public school students claims the state is neglecting its constitutional obligation to ensure that every school has sufficient funding to provide all students a sound basic education.

Filed by a coalition of parents, school board members and teachers, the action names the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the Board of Regents and Education Commissioner John B. King as defendants.

“The New York State Constitution defines a sound basic education as a meaningful high school education,” said attorney Jay Worona, general counsel of the New York State Board of Education. He said that means preparing students for college or for the workforce. When schools are struggling to maintain programs like Advanced Placement courses, he said, they can’t provide that level of education.

Mr. Worona said the lawsuit is in response to a Campaign for Fiscal Equity, passed in 2007 to return funding to public schools. He said there is no way to tell when the case will go before a judge, but he hopes if the state sees the lawsuit as an enforcement measure, action could be taken by late spring.

The group filing the suit — New Yorkers for Students’ Education Rights — is composed of 15 parents from throughout the state, along with members of education groups including the New York State Parent Teacher Association, New York State Council of School Superintendents and New York State Association of School Business Officials.

Mr. Worona said the suit is a direct response to the state’s failure to comply with the court ruling from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity vs. State of New York, which ruled in 2003 and again in 2006 the state was in violation of Article XI, Section 1 of the constitution. In response, the state Legislature in 2007 committed to increase funding statewide by approximately $7 billion over a four-year phase-in period, and adopted a new, more equitable foundation funding system. Since 2008, however, Mr. Worona said the state delayed the reforms because of a looming recession. The state largely froze foundation funding, adopted the Gap Elimination Adjustment and placed a cap on total state aid to education.

“The Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap together equal an inability of public schools to provide a sound education,” Mr. Worona said. “This isn’t a case of schools saying ‘give me more money.’ Schools want what’s necessary to provide what is constitutionally entitled to them.”

The lawsuit indicates that the state has failed to comply with the original decision of the state Court of Appeals and asks for an order requiring the state to drop the use of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, develop a new methodology for determining the actual costs of providing all students the opportunity for a sound basic education, revise funding formulas to ensure that all schools receive sufficient resources, and ensure a system of accountability that measures whether all students are, in fact, receiving the opportunity for a sound basic education.

“Not providing a quality education because there isn’t enough money is like a parent saying they didn’t feed their kids because there wasn’t enough money,” said Mr. Worona. “This is a follow-up; the previous court ruling needs to be reinforced.”

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