NYSUT attorneys are part of the trial team for the students and parents.
"This lawsuit seeks to force Albany to do what it should have done all along - meet its constitutional obligations to help all students receive a quality public education, no matter where they live or the level of wealth available locally," said NYSUT president Karen E. Magee when the trial began back in January.
PRESS RELEASE: In Small Cities Schools Case State and Plaintiffs Agree: 8 School Districts are Owed $1.1 Billion
October 29, 2015
For Immediate Release:
Wendy Liberatore, Statewide Communications Coordinator, AQE
firstname.lastname@example.org / (518) 432-5315 ext. 102; cell-(518) 491-0454
ALBANY (October 29, 2015) – In court papers filed in the Small Cities school funding lawsuit, the Plaintiff parents and the State agree that over the past 5 years the 8 districts have not received $1.1 billion they should have received under the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula.
The Foundation Aid Formula was designed to provide New York school districts with adequate resources to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education. The $1.1 billion funding shortfall caused significant cuts in teachers, support staff and programs, and low academic outcomes, depriving district students of their right to a sound basic education under the State Constitution.
This key finding is among the extensive Findings of Fact based on the trial record filed late Wednesday by the Plaintiffs with Judge Kimberly O'Connor in the Albany Supreme Court as the next step in Maisto vs. State of New York, commonly called the Small Cities case.
The case involves school children from the small city districts of Mount Vernon, Port Jervis, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Kingston, Utica, Jamestown and Niagara Falls. The students sued the state for not providing its fair share of funding based on the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, causing their districts to cut teachers, staff and other essential resources and undermining efforts to improve outcomes for students.
The Foundation Aid Formula, enacted in the wake of the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State ruling is designed to provide the every New York student with a "sound basic education" as required by the New York State Constitution.
The general findings of facts in the plaintiffs' filings include:
- The shortchanging of $1.1 billion has resulted in test scores and graduation rates being unacceptable.
- Lack of funding has caused districts to cut teachers, support staff, and other essential educational resources.
- These cuts have resulted in Maisto districts being out of compliance with state regulations in such areas as academic support for students with disabilities and special needs.
- Every expert testifying state in the trial, whether on behalf of the both the plaintiffs or the state, agreed that additional funding and resources would improve test score and graduation rates, particularly for high-needs students.
Plaintiffs' findings specific to each city show that as a result of the underfunding:
- Poughkeepsie has lost 130 staff between 2009 and 2014. The district now does not have enough special education programs and academic intervention services.
- Jamestown reduced its staff by 24 percent from 2008 to 2012. The district does not have enough academic intervention services, services for English language learners and early literacy intervention.
- Port Jervis lost more than 10 percent of its staff in one year. In 2010-11 school year, district per pupil spending for a "sound basic education" had a shortfall of 31 percent.
- Utica cut 364.6 staff positions from 2010 to 2014. The district does not have enough academic intervention services.
- Kingston has 115 fewer full-time staffs than it did in 2012. In 2012-13 school district, district per pupil spending for a "sound basic education" had a shortfall of 23 percent.
- Niagara Falls cut 207.5 staff positions since 2009. The district has only a 60 percent graduation rate.
- Newburgh has been shortchanged $239 million by the state. The district does not have enough social workers, counselors or academic intervention teachers for its students.
- Mount Vernon simply has not enough teachers to address the needs of the students. The district had to cut "specials" including library, art, music, band, orchestra and reading teachers have been cut to a minimal level.
The attorneys for the plaintiff parents, Gregory G. Little, White & Case LLP; William E. Reynolds, Nixon Peabody LLP ; David Sciarra and Wendy Lecker, Education Law Center; andMegan M. Mercy, Associate Counsel, New York State United Teachers, note that these districts are plagued by low property wealth, higher than average local tax rates and poverty.
"There is no excuse for the State's failure to provide every student with their constitutional right for an opportunity to have a sound basic education," said Gregory Little of the White & Case firm and a lead counsel in the case. "We trust the legal system will enforce their education rights. It would be far better, however, if the State simply agreed to do provide the funding these students and their peers desperately need."
"For too long, children in these districts have been deprived of essential resources, such as academic intervention, social workers, reading specialists and special education services," said William Reynolds of the Nixon Peabody firm and also counsel to plaintiffs. "The State enacted the 2007 formula to provide those resources, but then walked away from its promise to these children and their schools."
"This lawsuit is essential. The State is underfunding these schools and both the State and the plaintiffs agree on that fact," said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education. "The failure of the state to fulfill its obligations to students is shortchanging students of their educational opportunities and parents and students have had to resort taking the state to court."
The case was heard by Judge O'Connor in New York Supreme Court over a span of eight weeks from January 21 to March 19, 2015. At the close of the trial, Judge O'Connor directed the plaintiffs lawyers and the Attorney General to submit findings of fact based on trial evidence that support their respective positions.
The parties will now file legal briefs, which finalize the trial proceedings and allow Judge O'Connor to make a ruling in the case.
The filing of facts can be found here.