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ADEQUATE SCHOOL FUNDING KEY TO EFFECTIVE TEACHERS IN NEW YORK’S POOR SCHOOLS

June 9, 2016

The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) has filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of New York teachers and their public schools in a pending appeal of two consolidated lawsuits. The lawsuits are a copycat of a California case that unsuccessfuly attempted to link laws governing tenure, layoffs and other work rules with school district retention of ineffective teachers and a violation of state constitutional rights.

The AQE brief also brings to the court’s attention the solid and overwhelming evidence – ignored by the lawsuits – connecting inadequate school funding to the lack of qualified teachers and other essential resources in New York public schools. State funding cuts since 2009 have caused the elimination of over 13,000 teaching positions across New York and have left districts without the funding to fill vacancies. The AQE brief demonstrates that adequate school funding – and not teacher work rules – is the critical factor that determines whether school districts, especially low-wealth districts, can attract and retain an effective teacher and support staff workforce.

The appeal involves two consolidated complaints, Davids v. State and Wright v. State, inspired by California’s Vergara v. State litigation. The Davids and Wrights complaints make virtually identical claims to Vergara, asserting that New York’s teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff statutes violate the right to education under the State constitution. While the Vergara lower court found in favor of the plaintiffs, the California Appellate Court reversed that ruling, holding that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the statutes “make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.”

A motion to dismiss the Wright and Davids complaints was denied by a Staten Island court, and the State of New York has appealed that ruling to the Appellate Division, Second Department.

The AQE brief argues that the New York complaints suffer the same deficiencies as California’s Vergara case. The requirements for proving a denial of a “sound basic education” under the New York Constitution are firmly established by the New York Court of Appeals in the landmark rulings in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State (CFE) school funding case. There, the Court held that in order to establish a denial of a constitutionally adequate education, a plaintiff must demonstrate a districtwide, systemic deficiency of basic education resources, poor student outcomes and a causal connection between these systemic failures and state action or inaction.

A key requirement in pleading a claim for the denial of a “sound basic education” under New York law is alleging facts regarding real and systemic conditions in specific school districts. In both the Wright and Davids complaints, the plaintiffs allege virtually no systemic facts related to any specific New York school district. The complaints present no evidence of deficiencies in quality teaching among schools in any district, nor do they not identify any low student outcomes in any district. Absent facts about resource deficiencies and poor student outcomes in one or more districts, the plaintiffs simply fail to allege facts establishing causation between the employment laws and widespread ineffective teaching in any New York district.

The AQE amicus brief also informs the Appeals Court of the critical connection between adequate school funding and the provision of effective teachers established in the CFE rulings. In CFE, New York’s highest court found that increased funding would enable New York City to recruit and retain more qualified teachers, which, in turn would yield better student outcomes. A strong body of research confirms this conclusion. Two recent, large-scale longitudinal studies found that school finance reform enables school districts to increase instructional spending, including increasing teacher salaries and hiring more teachers, and that this increased spending leads to improved student academic and life outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged students.

“These complaints fail to present facts that would connect tenure and other teacher workforce rules with a systemic lack of quality teaching in any specific New York school district,” said Wendy Lecker, the Education Law Center Senior Attorney who authored the brief. “We are confident that New York’s Appellate Division will reach the same conclusion the California Appellate court reached.”

“This lawsuit is a red herring,” added AQE’s Executive Director, Billy Easton. “The teacher employment laws are not the cause of any deficits in our students’ education. The persistent lack of adequate state funding triggers inequity. New York has 13,000 fewer educators than it did five years ago due to funding cuts. If these plaintiffs and their supporters were concerned about quality teaching and other resources essential to a ‘sound basic education,’ such as small class sizes and academic and social interventions for at-risk children, they’d join the efforts of parents across the state to restore full funding of the Foundation Aid Formula. But their goal is not to improve our public schools. They’d rather disparage our dedicated teachers and their due process rights.”

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24