kids, can't afford you
This editorial in the capital city's Times Union newspaper, appeared
shortly after oral argument before the state's highest court, in
the Hussein v. State
City School Districts' case, which seeks sufficient funding for a "sound
basic education," as
required by the New York Constitution.
New York state fights yet another lawsuit over school aid.
No matter what the judgment, kids are bound to lose.
Sometimes the winners in a lawsuit are also the losers, and they lose long before the judge renders a decision in their supposed favor.
So it was for millions of New York City children in a lawsuit brought in 1993 by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. It took eight years for a court to find that, indeed, New York state had been shortchanging city schools on education aid, failing to meet its obligation under the state constitution: to provide all children with "a sound, basic education."
Pataki, the state kept fighting that case, even after
a 2004 deadline passed for the state to fix the problem,
even after a court-appointed panel in 2005 found it would
cost more than $5.6 billion a year to correct the imbalance,
almost right up to the time Mr. Pataki left office, when
the state's highest court cut the price tag to $1.9 billion.
In all, 13 years had passed.
Consider that a moment.
A typical 5-year-old who entered the New York City public
school system when the lawsuit started in 1993 was, according
to that case, destined to receive a substandard education.
And for that child's entire public school career, New York
state fought to keep it that way.
Multiply that by the more than 1 million children in that
one public school system alone over the course of 13 years,
and you start to see how many losers this case truly had
--- including a society that will pay the price for citizens
unprepared to fully participate in it.
But why revisit this tale now? Because it's quite likely
happening again. Another generation of children stands to
suffer for New York's legal gamesmanship. The children in
this case, though, are closer to home.
time, the lawsuit is between the state and the Association
of Small City School Districts, a group of 13 districts
including Albany and Troy. The schools contend that the
state has underfunded them, causing tax rates to soar
and making it impossible for them to provide a sound,
basic education. The result, they say, is an achievement
gap between their students and children in more affluent districts.
More than three years after the suit was filed in 2008,
it reached the state's highest court --- but only on the
state's challenge over whether the case should be allowed
to proceed. If the districts win this round, the case
still has to be heard on its merits. With more appeals
and maneuvers like this, it could, like the CFE case,
drag on for years.
Meanwhile, the Board of Regents this week was talking
about whether districts should be allowed to merge high
schools and pool resources to save money. A State Education
Department memo that analyzed the idea said this:
"There is strong evidence that the financial crisis facing
school districts will not be alleviated to any significant
degree in the future. ... Many of our school districts
may have difficulty meeting financial obligations and
will risk cutting programs and personnel to the point
of not being able to provide a sound, basic education
to our students."
The only real question is whether that point has come
already, at least for these small urban districts.
this case started, Andrew
Cuomo was the attorney general. As the state's lawyer,
he had to fight it.
Now he's governor. The choice to fight it is his. So is the choice to drag this lawsuit out as long possible, and to send a clear message to another generation: Sorry, the Empire State can't afford you.
Published Saturday, April 28, 2012, Albany,
NY, Times Union Newspaper, and available at: http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Editorial-Sorry-kids-can-t-afford-you-3518569.php#ixzz1tYkjPdaY
See, also: State Petitions Court of Appeals To Deny Public School Students Their Day In Court