Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Irrational, Arbitrary or Capricious"

In 1993, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity began a thirteen-year march toward a fair and equitable school funding formula. The march for fairness culminated in a lawsuit which wended its way through the NYS court system a la Bleak House, ending with a Court of Appeals reaffirmation of an earlier decision, and a victory for CFE. The legislation that came out of this victory was meant to increase annual state aid to public schools and to design a new formula for foundation aid based on need.

Well, that was 2007, and you'd think that would have been the end of it, but then came 2008 and the Great Recession. And in 2009, the aid was frozen and then cut, with school funding seized to cover other state needs. You'd think that a court-ordered payment would have to be made, but as Assemblywoman Nolan told a group of us recently, "Well, we didn't have the money, so what are you gonna do." As the then-head of CFE, Michael Rebell, has stated, all of CFE's work since 1993 was thus erased by the legislature. And despite the fact that aid has slowly been added back in, most districts are not funded up to 2007 levels even now.

So Rebell, who is really the hero of this Dickensian tale, worked over the past year or so with a group of parents and others to initiate a whole new lawsuit. New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights (NYSER) seek to have $1.6 billion immediately restored to school coffers, property tax caps rescinded, and a fair formula reimposed.

Again, the case is wending its way through the courts. And yesterday, NYSER won step one with the State Supreme Court, which refused to dismiss the case as requested by the state. Justice Manuel Mendez, ruling for the plantiffs, pretty much wrote their argument for them, stating that the mechanisms the state has used to keep from paying up "could potentially be found irrational, arbitrary or capricious and capable of preventing a sound basic education."

The state now has twenty days in which to appeal the ruling or go to trial. Rebell expects the state to delay the case as long as possible.

Rebell will be one of the speakers at an event I'm moderating Monday night. It should be enlightening and entertaining, if moderately depressing. I encourage anyone local to attend.

No comments: