Attorney General Changes Legal Position on Foundation Aid
After an eight-week trial and post-trial submissions, parents from “Small Cities” districts challenging New York’s failure to adequately fund their schools are now awaiting a ruling in their case. The final court papers in Maisto v. New York were filed with Judge Kimberly O’Connor in the Supreme Court in Albany on February 9, 2016.
The Plaintiffs are parents of children enrolled in eight, high-need, low-wealth districts across the state: Utica, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Jamestown, Mt. Vernon, Niagara Falls, Newburgh and Port Jervis.
In their filings, the Plaintiffs ask the court to rule that current funding in their districts is so inadequate as to cause low student outcomes and severe deficits in teachers, support staff and other essential programs and resources. They also seek a declaration that the State is violating the right of district students to a “sound basic education” under the New York Constitution.
To remedy the constitutional violation, Plaintiffs ask the court to order the State to fully fund the Foundation Aid Formula over the next four years. The Formula was enacted in 2007 to respond to the landmark rulings in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) litigation. In CFE, the Court of Appeals ordered increased funding only for New York City, but invited the Legislature to reform the State‘s broken finance system to ensure adequate funding for a sound basic education for all students statewide.
A central issue in the case is the State’s failure to fund the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula. At trial, the Attorney General did not dispute that, since 2009-10, the State has frozen and cut Foundation Aid, leaving the districts significantly below the spending levels set by the Formula for a sound basic education. The undisputed evidence at trial also showed that the eight districts had a cumulative shortfall of $1.1 billion in Foundation Aid as of 2013-14, resulting from the State’s failure to fund the Formula.
Plaintiffs also underscore the contradictory legal position taken by the Attorney General on the constitutionality of the Foundation Aid Formula. In an unsuccessful attempt in 2011 to dismiss the Small Cities case without a trial, the Attorney General represented to the Court of Appeals that the Foundation Formula was enacted “to reflect the estimated cost of providing a constitutionally adequate education in this State.” In an about-face, the Attorney General is now arguing after the trial that “Foundation Aid is not and cannot be the minimum funding required by the [Constitution]” and that the Formula is “irrelevant to determining whether the State has satisfied its obligation to provide students with the opportunity for a sound basic education,” as defined in the CFE rulings.
Judge O’Connor’s ruling in the case will only affect students in the eight districts before the court. However, a ruling that the State is violating their constitutional rights by failing to fund the Foundation Aid Formula could trigger action to address the State’s chronic underfunding of similar high need districts across the state.
The Plaintiff parents are represented by attorneys from the Education Law Center, White & Case in New York City, Nixon Peabody in Albany, NYSUT General Counsel, and the Biggerstaff Law Firm in Albany.
More information about Maisto v. New York and links to court filings are available here.
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