New York State School Boards Association

NYSSBA, others sue government over GEA, state education funding

by Eric D. Randall

On Board Online • February 24, 2014

By Eric D. Randall

Hoping for a quick end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the state cap on local property tax increases, a coalition of education groups including NYSSBA has filed a lawsuit contending the state’s system of funding public education violates the state constitution.

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

The plaintiffs are 15 parents from across the state and a litigation group called New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights, which is comprised of more than a dozen education groups including the state Council of School Superintendents and the state Association of School Business Officials.

The suit is a follow-up to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) litigation that succeeded obtaining two court findings (in 2003 and 2006) that school funding for New York City was inadequate. The court rulings prompted the Legislature to create a four-year, statewide plan to improve school funding, but it was abandoned within two years as the economy weakened.

New York City attorney Michael Rebell, who litigated the CFE case, will be arguing the new case on a pro bono (no fee) basis.

Rebell served on Cuomo’s New York Education Reform Commission and was frustrated that the panel failed to address school funding issues raised by him and another panel member, former BOCES District Superintendent Jessica Cohen.

“The governor’s education reform commission, on which I sat, refused to even consider these issues,” Rebell said. “We have no other recourse but to go back to court.”

The action seeks a court order that the Legislature immediately discontinue use of the gap elimination adjustment, the cap on state aid increases and the supermajority requirements regarding increases in local property tax levies. The lawsuit contends these all violate the state constitution.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare that:
• The state has failed to comply with the Court of Appeals’ decisions and order in the CFE actions.
• The state has failed to provide students in New York City and throughout the state with the opportunity for a sound basic education as required by the state constitution.
• The current state education finance system is inequitable, inadequate and in violation of the requirements of the state constitution.

In addition, the plaintiffs ask the court to direct the Legislature to develop and implement a new methodology for determining the actual costs of providing all students the opportunity for a sound basic education, revise the state funding formulas to ensure that all schools receive sufficient resources, and ensure a system of accountability that measures whether every school has sufficient resources to ensure that all students are, in fact, receiving the opportunity for a sound basic education.

The suit was filed Feb. 11 in state Supreme Court in New York City.

“Our goal is to end the state government’s neglect of its constitutional responsibility to ensure that all New York schools have sufficient funding to meeting students’ educational needs,” Rebell said.


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