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“The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.” N.Y. Const. art. XI, § 1.


In 1982, in Levittown Union Free School District v. Nyquist, the New York Court of Appeals, the State’s highest Court, held that the state constitution did not mandate equal per-pupil funding across districts, but did require the State to provide students “the opportunity to obtain a sound basic education.” 

In 2003, in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court declaration that the State education finance system was unconstitutional and denied New York City schoolchildren the opportunity for a sound basic education. The Court held that the opportunity for a sound basic education means the State must offer the skills necessary to enable children to “function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury.” In 2006, the Court further established that a sound basic education must provide students the “opportunity for a meaningful high school education” and prepare them to compete for jobs that enable them to support themselves.

In 2006, the State increased facilities funding for New York City schools, and in 2007, the State enacted a new statewide, operating aid, funding system to be phased in over four years. After two years, the State reversed course and reduced funding.

In 2012, in Maisto v. State, the Court of Appeals, based on Court precedents, denied the State’s motion to dismiss this educational opportunity and school funding case, filed in 2008, by parents in several small city school districts to challenge the State’s underfunding of their schools. The case was tried in 2015, and a decision rendered in 2016. The trial court ruling was appealed, and the Appellate Division ruled for the plaintiffs in 2017, remanding the case to the trial court. For more information see Maisto Overview.

In 2014, plaintiffs filed Davids v. State and Wright v. State, now consolidated, alleging that State statutes establishing teacher work rules deprive students of their State constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education. As of 2017, these cases are before the Appellate Division on the State’s motion to dismiss.

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) filed an amicus brief, authored by ELC, in these cases. The brief demonstrated that adequate school funding is the critical factor determining whether New York school districts, especially low-wealth districts, can attract and retain effective teachers and support staff and secure other essential educational resources. The brief also pointed out that the New York Court of Appeals, the State’s highest Court, held that to successfully allege constitutionally inadequate education, plaintiffs must show a systemic deficiency of basic educational resources, poor student outcomes, and a causal connection between these systemic failures and state action or inaction. The plaintiffs in these cases presented no evidence of deficiencies or low student outcomes in any school district and failed to allege facts to establish causation.

In 2017, in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER) v. State, the Court of Appeals denied the State defendants’ motion to dismiss. In remanding the case for trial, the Court reaffirmed the State's obligation to provide every child the opportunity for a sound basic education, as established in the Court’s landmark 2003 Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State decision. 

In December 2017, ELC joined the plaintiffs’ legal team, and the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. The NYSER parents allege that the State’s chronic underfunding of their schools has deprived their children of essential education resources, including teachers, reasonable class size, tutoring, social workers and interventions for at-risk students.