Maisto ("Small Cities") Overview
Maisto v. State of New York, also known as the “Small Cities” case, is a school funding case brought by parents and children in eight small city school districts across New York State. The plaintiffs in the case are asking the Court to order the State to comply with the New York Constitution, which requires the provision of a “sound basic education” for all children.
Although New York State reformed its school funding system in 2007 (in response to the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity school funding decision) by enacting the Foundation Aid formula and promising an additional $5.5 billion in state school aid to be phased in over four years, the State reneged on that promise in 2009-10, when it froze Foundation Aid. In 2010-11, the State enacted the Gap Elimination Adjustment (“GEA”), which attempted to balance the state budget by cutting state school aid.
The Plaintiffs in the Maisto case contend that the failure of the State to adequately fund schools denies students in all eight districts the basic resources they need for a sound basic education. The Maisto districts all have low property wealth, higher than average local tax rates, significant family poverty and high student need. These districts struggle to educate their students without enough funding to provide reasonable class sizes, a full and rigorous curriculum, programs for high-needs students, and other essentials for academic success.
In 2009, at the outset of the case, then known as Hussein v. State of New York, the trial court denied the State's motion to dismiss. In 2011, the intermediate appellate court affirmed, and in 2012, the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, also affirmed, allowing children in these districts to present evidence on the resource deficiencies in their schools.
The Maisto trial was conducted in State Supreme Court in Albany, in front of the Honorable Kimberly A. O’Connor, from January 21 through March 12, 2015.
Witnesses from all eight districts put forth evidence of massive budget cuts resulting from State underfunding of Foundation Aid. These budget cuts precipitated the severe reduction or elimination of staff, services and programs essential to providing students with the opportunity to succeed academically. As a consequence, student achievement in all eight districts is well below adequate.
At trial, the State stipulated that the Maisto districts would have received $1.1 billion more in state school aid than they actually received from 2010-2011 through 2014-15, if the State hadn’t frozen Foundation Aid and enacted the GEA. The State witnesses acknowledged that student performance in all eight districts was unacceptable. State witnesses further conceded that if the districts had received the funding they should have, student performance would have been better.
There were 28 days of trial in which the Plaintiffs presented a total of 21 witnesses, and the defense presented a total of 14 witnesses. The Supreme Court admitted 315 exhibits into evidence. There were approximately 5,000 pages of testimony and 5,000 pages of exhibits.
The Plaintiffs sought a court order declaring that the current level of state school funding was so inadequate as to violate the rights of students in the Maisto districts to a sound basic education under Article XI, Section 1 of the New York State Constitution. The Plaintiffs also sought a court order directing the State to fully fund the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula without any of the adjustments or cuts implemented since 2009-10.
At the close of the Plaintiffs’ case, the Defendants moved for a directed verdict. The court denied this motion, stating that based on the evidence of “inputs, outputs and the causal link that’s required,” the Plaintiffs established a prima facie case. Subsequent to the trial, the Plaintiffs and Defendants completed post trial submissions, which were filed by February 2016.
On September 19, 2016, the NY Supreme Court issued a “Decision and Order,” dismissing the Plaintiffs’ claims. The text of the decision was 14 pages long, and it contained no findings of fact, nor did it mention a single witness or exhibit.
Despite New York precedent, the law of this case and the court’s earlier ruling on the directed verdict, the trial court explicitly declined to employ the CFE analytic framework. The court did find that outcomes in the districts were “undeniably inadequate.” However, the court declined to make any findings of fact regarding inputs or causation.
The court rejected the Plaintiffs’ funding claim based on the court’s conclusion that Foundation Aid was not the constitutional minimum, rather than any finding or analysis of actual funding levels in the Maisto districts. The court also dismissed the Plaintiffs’ claims on the ground that the effect of funding and other reforms could not be felt yet. These two final grounds for dismissal directly contravened the Court of Appeals ruling in this same case that Plaintiffs’ claims were neither moot nor unripe.
Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal on October 5, 2016. The case will be appealed to the Appellate Division, Third Department.