Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc., et al.,
The State of New York, et al.,
2003 NY Int. 84
We begin with a unanimous recognition of the importance
of education in our democracy. The fundamental value of
education is embedded in the Education Article of the New York
State Constitution by this simple sentence: "The legislature
shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free
common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be
educated" (NY Const, art XI, § 1). Plaintiffs claim that the
State has violated this mandate by establishing an education
financing system that fails to afford New York City's public
This case does not arrive before us on a blank slate. On June 15, 1995 -- precisely eight years ago -- we denied the State's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claims, thereby resolving three issues of law that now become the starting point for our decision ( Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v State of New York, , 86 NY2d 307 [" CFE"]).
First, echoing Board of Education, Levittown Union Free
School District v Nyquist (, 57 NY2d 27  [" Levittown"]), in
CFE we recognized that by mandating a school system "wherein all
the children of this state may be educated," the State has
obligated itself constitutionally to ensure the availability of a
"sound basic education" to all its children. Second, we made
clear that this Court is responsible for adjudicating the nature
of that duty, and we provided a template, or outline, of what is
encompassed within a sound basic education. And third, we
concluded from the pleadings that plaintiffs had alleged facts
that, if proved, would constitute a violation of the State's
constitutional duty as well as the federal regulations. The
actual quality of the educational opportunity in New York City,
Based on the testimony of 72 witnesses and on 4300 exhibits, the trial court on January 9, 2001 determined that the State over many years had consistently violated the Education Article of the Constitution. In keeping with our directive, the trial court first fleshed out the template for a sound basic education that we had outlined in our earlier consideration of the issue. To determine whether the State actually satisfied that standard the court then reviewed the various necessary instructional "inputs" we had identified, and concluded that in most of these the New York City schools were deficient. The trial court further held that the "outputs" -- test results and graduation rates -- likewise reflected systemic failure and that the State's actions were a substantial cause of the constitutional violation. Finally, the court found a violation of Title VI, and directed defendants to put in place systemic reforms.
A divided Appellate Division reversed, on the law and
facts. The majority rejected the trial court's definition of a
Plaintiffs' appeal presents various questions of law,
but one is paramount: whether the trial court correctly defined a
sound basic education. Further -- in light of the Appellate
Division's express and implicit substitution of its findings of
fact for those of the trial court regarding the inputs, outputs
and causation -- we must determine which court's findings more
nearly comport with the weight of the credible evidence ( see CPLR 5501 [b]). We now modify, affirming for reasons stated by the
Appellate Division so much of the decision as dismissed
plaintiffs' Title VI claim,
and otherwise reversing the
At the time of trial, the New York City public school system comprised nearly 1200 schools serving 1.1 million children and employing a staff of over 135,000, including 78,000 teachers ( see generally 187 Misc 2d at 19-23, 295 AD2d at 5-6). Some 84 percent of City schoolchildren were racial minorities; 80 percent were born outside the United States; and 16 percent were classified as Limited English Proficient ("LEP" -- persons who speak little or no English) -- most of the State's students in each of these categories. Upwards of 73 percent were eligible for the Federal free or reduced lunch program; 442,000 City schoolchildren came from families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children; and 135,000 were enrolled in special education programs.
The New York City public school system was and is
supervised by the Board of Education and its Chancellor ( see
Education Law §§ 2590-b; 2590-g; 2590-h).
The system is
divided into 32 geographically-based community school districts
to provide elementary and middle school education; six
Neither the Regents nor the SED is responsible, however, for the day-to-day operation of the schools or for their funding. Rather, a combination of local, State and Federal sources generate school funding. Almost half of the State aid component consists of operating aid, which is allocated using a complex statutory formula that apportions various categories of aid based on a district's Combined Wealth Ratio -- which measures its ability to generate revenue -- and student attendance ( see Education Law § 3602). The statute contains extensive prescriptions regarding how districts may use funds, and it is perhaps the proliferation of highly specific aid categories that most differentiates the current section 3602 from its shorter, simpler predecessors ( see e.g. L 1962, ch 657).
Every year, pursuant to Education Law § 215-a, the
Board of Regents and the SED submit a report to the Governor and
II. The Standard
In CFE we equated a sound basic education with "the
basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to
enable children to eventually function productively as civic
participants capable of voting and serving on a jury" (86 2 at
316). We thus indicated that a sound basic education conveys not
merely skills, but skills fashioned to meet a practical goal:
meaningful civic participation in contemporary society. This
In keeping with this core constitutional purpose and our direction further to develop the template, the trial court took evidence on what the "rising generation" needs in order to function productively as civic participants, concluding that this preparation should be measured with reference to the demands of modern society and include some preparation for employment (187 Misc 2d at 16). The Appellate Division also recognized that our "term 'function productively' does imply employment" (295 2 at 8), and we agree with both parties and both lower courts that an employment component was implicit in the standard we outlined in CFE. Nevertheless, the parties dispute the nature of the employment -- and of civic participation generally -- for which a sound basic education should prepare children, as well as the nature of the instruction necessary to achieve such preparation. We address each of these areas of dispute in turn.
First, as to employment, the Appellate Division
concluded that the trial court "went too far" in construing the
ability to "function productively" as the ability to obtain
Second, as to other aspects of civic participation, the
difference between the trial court and the Appellate Division
centers on our statement in CFE that a sound basic education
should leave students "capable of voting and serving on a jury"
(86 2 at 316). The State's expert on educational psychology,
Dr. Herbert Walberg, testified that pattern jury instructions and
newspaper articles typically feature vocabulary and sentence
length comparable to those of texts eighth-graders are expected
to be able to read. Based on this testimony, the Appellate
We agree with the trial court that students require more than an eighth-grade education to function productively as citizens, and that the mandate of the Education Article for a sound basic education should not be pegged to the eighth or ninth grade, or indeed to any particular grade level. In CFE we pointed to voting and jury service because they are the civic responsibilities par excellence. For reasons founded in the American historical experience, the statutory requirements for participation in those activities are aimed at being inclusive. Indeed, the latest amendment of Judiciary Law § 510 -- the juror qualification statute -- removed requirements based on jurors' literacy ( see L 1995, ch 86, § 3). Yet it cannot reasonably be supposed that the demands of juror service, and any related demands on the City schools, have become less rigorous, or that the concept of a sound basic education would not include literacy.
Finally, with these goals in mind, we come to the
dispute over the kind and amount of schooling children need in
"Children are entitled to minimally adequate physical facilities and classrooms which provide enough light, space, heat, and air to permit children to learn. Children should have access to minimally adequate instrumentalities of learning such as desks, chairs, pencils, and reasonably current textbooks. Children are also entitled to minimally adequate teaching of reasonably up- to-date basic curricula such as reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies, by sufficient personnel adequately trained to teach those subject areas" (86 2 at 317).
As we further explained, many of the more detailed standards established by the Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education "exceed notions of a minimally adequate or sound basic education," so that proof that schools do not comply with such standards "may not, standing alone, establish a violation of the Education Article" ( id.). The trial court, accordingly, declined to fix the most recent, and ambitious, statement of educational goals -- the Regents Learning Standards, adopted in 1996 -- as the definition of a sound basic education (187 Misc 2d at 12). As the trial court observed, so to enshrine the Learning Standards would be to cede to a state agency the power to define a constitutional right.
Although some amici nevertheless urge us to adopt the
Learning Standards as the definition of a sound basic education,
plaintiffs make no such request. Rather, they contend that
The issue to be resolved by the evidence is whether the State affords New York City schoolchildren the opportunity for a meaningful high school education, one which prepares them to function productively as civic participants. This is essentially the question the trial court addressed, and we conclude that the Appellate Division erred to the extent that it founded a judgment for defendants upon a much lower, grade-specific level of skills children are guaranteed the chance to achieve.
III. The Evaluation
To determine whether New York City schools in fact
deliver the opportunity for a sound basic education, the trial
court took evidence on the "inputs" children receive -- teaching,
facilities and instrumentalities of learning -- and their
resulting "outputs," such as test results and graduation and
dropout rates. This organization of the facts follows naturally
Teaching. The first and surely most important input is
teaching. The trial court considered six measures of teacher
quality -- including certification rates, test results,
experience levels and the ratings teachers receive from their
principals -- and concluded that the quality of New York City
schoolteachers is inadequate, despite the commendable, even
heroic, efforts of many teachers. The Appellate Division reached
a contrary conclusion based on its perception that principals'
reviews of the teachers they supervise are the best indication of
teaching ability (295 2 at 14). But plaintiffs' expert on the
The 1999 655 Report noted that schools with the highest percentages of minority children "have the least experienced teachers, the most uncertified teachers, the lowest-salaried teachers, and the highest rates of teacher turnover." The same report showed that well over half of the State's minority children attended New York City schools; that 84 percent of New York City schoolchildren were minorities; and that most of these children are poor. Taken together, these and other facts and statements in the 655 Report amount to an admission by the State agencies responsible for education that -- with respect to teacher experience and retention, certification and pay -- New York City schools are inferior to those of the rest of the State.
To be sure, the Education Article guarantees not
equality but only a sound basic education ( see Levittown, 57 NY2d
at 48). But as Judge Levine observed in his concurrence in CFE,
"the constitutional history of the Education Article shows that
The 655 Report indicates a mismatch between student
need in New York City and the quality of the teaching directed to
that need, and it is one authoritative source of facts showing
the extent of the mismatch. The report, for instance, shows that
in 1997 17 percent of New York City public schoolteachers either
were uncertified or taught in areas other than those in which
they were certified. The trial court noted this fact and
evidence that uncertified and inexperienced teachers tend to be
concentrated in the lowest performing schools. Notably, Dr.
Lankford demonstrated not only that New York City schools had the
largest percentage of teachers with two or fewer years'
experience but also that this percentage was greatest -- at 17.9
percent -- in the quintile of City schools with greatest student
need. Classifying teachers who either were uncertified or had
less than three years' experience as novice teachers, Dr.
Lankford testified that nearly a quarter of all City teachers,
and nearly a third of the teachers in the neediest quintile of
City schools, were novices. And he reviewed the colossal failure
As the trial court's decision shows, the record contains many more facts proving a serious shortfall in teacher quality in New York City schools, proving that this shortfall results from those schools' lack of competitiveness in bidding for and retaining personnel, and proving that better teachers produce better student performance ( see 187 Misc 2d at 25-36).
On this last point the testimony of Dr. Ronald Ferguson is particularly revealing. Using data from Texas -- where all teachers are tested -- Dr. Ferguson demonstrated that in districts where teachers perform badly on teacher certification tests, student performance declines as student grade level rises -- and, conversely, that where teachers test well, student performance at higher grade levels surpasses student performance at lower grade levels; thus, the longer students are exposed to good or bad teachers, the better or worse they perform. Based on evidence offered by Dr. Lankford, Dr. Ferguson projected that the same correlation would apply in New York. Defendants' expert, Dr. Eric Hanushek, challenged Dr. Ferguson's conclusions, but the trial court rejected this challenge and the Appellate Division -- though it referred to Dr. Ferguson's testimony -- did not rest any of its own contrary findings on Dr. Hanushek's testimony.
In sum, we conclude that the Appellate Division erred in relying solely on principal evaluations, and we agree with the trial court's holdings that teacher certification, test performance, experience and other factors measure quality of teaching; that quality of teaching correlates with student performance; and that New York City schools provide deficient teaching because of their inability to attract and retain qualified teachers.
School Facilities and Classrooms. As we noted in CFE, children are entitled to "classrooms which provide enough light, space, heat, and air to permit children to learn" (86 2 at 317). The trial court divided this further -- considering first the physical plant of New York City schools, and then the specific problem of overcrowding and class size -- and concluded that New York City schools are deficient. The court conceded, however, that the harmful effect of physical deficiencies of the first kind on student performance is difficult to measure. The Appellate Division took note of this concession, dismissed as "anecdotal" plaintiffs' evidence of "leaky roofs, deficient heating and other problems," and credited testimony that "all immediately hazardous conditions had been eliminated" (295 2 at 10).
Eliminating immediate hazards is not the same as
creating an environment conducive to learning, and the record
contains much evidence about deficient school infrastructure.
On the other hand, plaintiffs presented measurable proof, credited by the trial court, that New York City schools have excessive class sizes, and that class size affects learning. Even in the earliest years -- from kindergarten through third grade -- over half of New York City schoolchildren are in classes of 26 or more, and tens of thousands are in classes of over 30. As the trial court noted, federal and state programs seek to promote classes of 20 or fewer, particularly in the earliest years, and plaintiffs' experts testified on the advantage of smaller classes. As the 1999 655 Report shows, New York City elementary school classes average five more pupils than those of other schools statewide excluding Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers.
Although the Appellate Division found "no indication that students cannot learn in classes consisting of more than 20 students" (295 2 at 11), plaintiffs' burden was not to prove that some specific number is the maximum class size beyond which children "cannot learn." It is difficult to imagine what evidence could ever meet a burden so formulated; nothing in CFE required plaintiffs to do so. Rather, plaintiffs alleged "fact- based inadequacies" in educational inputs, and we held that the State's failure to provide the opportunity to obtain "fundamental skills" would constitute a violation of the Education Article (86 2 at 319). Accordingly, plaintiffs had to show that insufficient funding led to inadequate inputs which led to unsatisfactory results.
Plaintiffs' education evaluation statistics expert Dr.
Jeremy Finn showed -- on the basis of the Tennessee Student
Teacher Achievement Ratio ("STAR") project and related research -
- that, holding other variables constant, smaller class sizes in
the earliest grades correlate with better test results during
those years and afterwards (187 Misc 2d at 52-53). The trial
court found that the State's expert Dr. Hanushek failed to rebut
these conclusions, and the Appellate Division, mistakenly
addressing a nonexistent claim "that classes of over 20 students
are unconstitutional" (295 2 at 11), set forth no acceptable
Instrumentalities of Learning. The final input is
"instrumentalities of learning," including classroom supplies,
textbooks, libraries and computers. The courts below agreed that
the textbook supply is presently adequate and the evidence on
classroom supplies is inconclusive. On the other hand, evidence
including the latest 655 Report showed that New York City schools
had about nine library books per student -- half as many as
schools statewide excluding the City, and just under half the
number recommended by the American Library Association. In light
of Levittown, the intrastate inequality does not prove anything
in itself, and a library association might be expected to
advocate book purchases at levels exceeding the constitutional
floor. But in holding that the library books in New York City
The unrebutted testimony indicated that the books in City school libraries are old and not integrated with contemporary curricula. The Appellate Division suggested that school libraries simply consist of "classics" rather than "multicultural" books (295 2 at 12), but the record contains not one scintilla of evidence that antiquated books in City school libraries are "classics." The Appellate Division thus gave no factual basis for its disagreement with the trial court that the library books in New York City schools are inadequate in quality.
The record concerning computers is similar,
establishing that some exposure to them has become essential and
that City schools not only have about half as many computers per
student as all other New York schools, but also have aging
equipment that, in some cases, simply cannot support presently-
available software. The Appellate Division speculated that old
equipment might be used "for introductory classes" (295 2 at
11), but this possibility was not even advocated by the State
and, like the "classic" outdated library books, has no record
support at all. While we hesitate to overstate the importance of
libraries and computers relative to other inputs, we conclude
In sum, considering all of the inputs, we conclude that the trial court's findings should be reinstated, as indicated, and that the educational inputs in New York City schools are inadequate. There are certainly City schools where the inadequacy is not "gross and glaring" ( Levittown, 57 NY2d at 48). Some of these schools may even be excellent. But tens of thousands of students are placed in overcrowded classrooms, taught by unqualified teachers, and provided with inadequate facilities and equipment. The number of children in these straits is large enough to represent a systemic failure. A showing of good test results and graduation rates among these students -- the "outputs" -- might indicate that they somehow still receive the opportunity for a sound basic education. The showing, however, is otherwise.
School Completion. Concerning the first output, school
completion, the proof revealed that of those New York City ninth
graders who do not transfer to another school system, only 50
percent graduate in four years, and 30 percent do not graduate or
receive a general equivalency degree ("GED") by the age of 21,
when they cease to be eligible for free public education. This
The State argues nonetheless that it is responsible only to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education and cannot be blamed if some students -- perhaps those who enter New York City schools after years of schooling in another country -- do not avail themselves of the opportunity it provides. As the trial court correctly observed, this opportunity must still "be placed within reach of all students," including those who "present with socio-economic deficits" (187 Misc 2d at 63). This observation follows from the constitutional mandate to provide schools wherein all children may be educated, and is consistent with the official position of the Regents and Education Department, as set forth in the 655 Report for 1999, that "all children can learn given appropriate instructional, social, and health services."
The evidence on why students drop out suggested mainly
that the choice to drop out correlates with poor academic
performance and, as noted in the 655 Report for 1999, racial
minority status and concentrated poverty. The Report further
indicated that "dropout rates serve as useful measures of
schools' abilities to * * * motivate learning," supporting the
common sense proposition that large dropout rates reflect
problems with the schools as well as the students. The trial
court properly considered both possibilities and declined to pin
the blame solely on the deficits a "troubled child" brings to
school ( see 187 Misc 2d at 63). There was certainly no proof
Test Results. The State's main answer to the proof of graduation and dropout rates in City schools consists of evidence that, in any event, test results are not bad -- and this is also where the Appellate Division concentrated its discussion of outputs (295 2 at 15-16).
The State's reliance on some favorable standardized
test results fails to take into account the full record on
examination evidence. In particular, that evidence related to
elementary school tests administered Statewide and intended to
present results with reference to the content appropriate to
their grade level: the Pupil Evaluation Program ("PEP"), which
measures individual achievement in reading and mathematics, and
Between 1994 and 1998, the undisputed evidence showed
that upwards of 30 percent of New York City sixth graders scored
below the SRP in reading. Among third graders, 35 to 40 percent
scored below the SRP, while Statewide about 90 percent scored
above. The evidence showed that at the third grade level -- when
children are expected to have learned to read -- a score at the
SRP means a child is barely literate, and hence that over a third
of City schoolchildren were functionally illiterate. PET scores
in science and social science showed New York City fourth, sixth
and eighth graders invariably in the lowest quartile Statewide,
and generally between the 10th and 16th percentile. The trial
court attached significance to these low PEP and PET scores (187
The State does rely partly on tests administered Statewide. In particular, it cites student performance on the Regents Competency Tests ("RCTs"), which have historically been administered to 11th graders as a prerequisite for graduation. In 1997-98, 90 percent of the New York City schoolchildren who reached 11th grade demonstrated competency in reading and mathematics by passing either the RCTs or the more challenging Regents examinations -- a figure not far behind the statewide and suburban averages.
Although the RCTs are no longer used to measure
readiness to graduate, this fact alone does not disqualify them
as a measure of whether students have received a sound basic
education. Nevertheless, as both parties agree, the RCTs assess
achievement at only an eighth or ninth grade level in reading and
Additionally, according to the 655 Report for 1999, City students who took the RCTs in 1997-98 actually passed at a much lower rate than 90 percent; 51 percent passed in math and 72 percent in English. The Report explains that City schools had adopted a new policy of administering the examinations to ninth rather than 11th graders, and this may account for some of the difference. Since the exams are a diagnostic tool for measuring skills taught in middle school, these results, at most, cast doubt on the results middle schools accomplish, rather than proving that students have received a meaningful high school education. Further, the 1997-98 11th grade class with the 90 percent qualification rates consisted of only about 40,000 students, compared to a 9th grade enrollment of over 90,000.
Thus the State's RCT passage rates -- aside from
proving nothing about high school achievement -- would surely be
lower, but for the alarming number of students who fall behind or
drop out and so do not take the exam. This fact illustrates the
need to be cautious in relying on test results, a point we made
in CFE even as we recognized that such results have some value
(86 2 at 317). The trial court properly exercised such
Apart from the RCTs, the State relies on results from an assortment of commercially-available nationally-normed reading and math tests administered to children in City elementary schools, notably the CTB-Reading (CTB-R) and California Achievement Test (CAT). As the State points out, just under half of all City schoolchildren score at or above the 50th percentile in reading, and a larger number do so in math. Plaintiffs counter that these exams are "norm-referenced" -- they present information only on how students perform relative to other students -- in contrast to "criterion-referenced" exams, which are informative about how students master content they are expected to know at a given level. Further, plaintiffs argue that national comparisons are irrelevant to the issue of whether New York City public school students have received a sound basic education. The Appellate Division rejected this argument (295 2 at 16).
As we have already suggested, the New York Constitution
ensures students not an education that approaches the national
norm -- whatever that may be -- but a sound basic education.
Moreover, CFE makes clear that the measure of a sound basic
education is educational content -- the set of "basic literacy,
calculating, and verbal skills" children acquire and its fit with
In sum, the Appellate Division improperly relied on the
RCTs in that they measure a level of proficiency far below a
sound basic education, and, as to exams administered to younger
children, it erred in relying on national norm-referenced exam
results without evidence tying these results to the
constitutional standard. We conclude that the trial court's
assessment of exam results, like its assessment of completion
rates, better comports with the weight of the credible evidence,
and supports its conclusion that, whether measured by the outputs
or the inputs, New York City schoolchildren are not receiving the
As we noted in CFE, in order to prevail plaintiffs must "establish a correlation between funding and educational opportunity * * * a causal link between the present funding system and any proven failure to provide a sound basic education to New York City school children" (86 2 at 318). The trial court reasoned that the necessary "causal link" between the present funding system and the poor performance of City schools could be established by a showing that increased funding can provide better teachers, facilities and instrumentalities of learning (187 Misc 2d at 68). We agree that this showing, together with evidence that such improved inputs yield better student performance, constituted plaintiffs' prima facie case, which plaintiffs established.
That the trial court's "Causation" section is largely
devoted to the State's rebuttal arguments, rather than to
plaintiffs' prima facie case, is insignificant, in that the court
had already incorporated much of the correlation evidence in its
discussion of inputs and outputs, as we have done. The trial
court, for instance, concluded that teacher certification rates
are one valid measure of teaching quality and are too low in New
York City, and it founded these conclusions on evidence
establishing the correlation between teacher certification and
We thus have no occasion to repeat the evidence establishing plaintiffs' prima facie case regarding the causal connection between better funding, improved inputs and better student results.
The State nevertheless makes several further arguments
concerning the correlation between its funding scheme and the
Socioeconomic Disadvantage. The State argues that poor student performance is caused by socioeconomic conditions independent of the quality of the schools and better remedied with investment in other resources. The Appellate Division agreed, reasoning that because of "demographic factors, such as poverty, high crime neighborhoods, single parent or dysfunctional homes, homes where English is not spoken, or homes where parents offer little help with homework and motivation * * * * more spending on education is not necessarily the answer, and * * * the cure lies in eliminating the socio-economic conditions facing certain students" (295 2 at 16). This is partly an argument about why students fail, which we have rejected in the discussion of outputs. But it is also a distinctly constitutional argument in the sense that choosing between competing beneficial uses of funds is a legislative task.
This is, in fact, the argument that Judge Simons made
in his solitary dissent in CFE (86 2 at 342-343). Had we
Comparative Spending. The State next argues that per-
student expenditures in the New York City schools compare
favorably with the average in the United States generally and in
other large cities such as Los Angeles, a fact purportedly
incompatible with finding "gross and glaring inadequacy" in
education ( see Levittown, 57 NY2d at 48). The premise is that
some expenditure level, if high enough relative to figures
nationwide, simply must be "enough," without reference to student
need, local costs, and the actual quality of inputs and outputs.
This premise, also, is compatible with the interpretation of
Levittown endorsed by the dissent in CFE (86 2 at 337-338) and
apparently also today's dissent (at 12-13). We reject it for
much the same reason we rejected exclusive reliance on
City Mismanagement. The State's most sustained arguments on causation, however, are based on evidence that the Board of Education mismanages New York City schools and the City itself fails to devote a sufficient part of its revenues to them. The State reasons that if either proposition is true, then the cause of any shortage of educational inputs in City schools is not the State funding system but City bureaucracy.
Specifically, the State argues first that fraud and corruption in the community school boards and City school construction spending, rather than the funding system, are the cause of any shortage of inputs. The trial court rejected these arguments (187 Misc 2d at 92, 94) and the Appellate Division likewise rejected the point about construction spending (295 2 at 18) while saying nothing about the community school boards. We thus have no occasion to review either argument.
The State argues second that, corruption aside, the
Board of Education mismanages the schools, particularly by
referring too many students to special education and placing too
many of these children in costly full-time segregated settings.
The trial court credited evidence that better special education
practices could save City schools between $105 and $185 million
annually, though some of these savings would be offset by the
greater cost of instructing children with special education needs
We are thus constrained to accept that some saving on special education is possible, a fact that to some extent undermines plaintiffs' argument that the school funding system is unconstitutional because it leaves New York City schools with insufficient funds to provide a sound basic education. But the magnitude of the savings is in dispute. The Appellate Division appears to have arrived at its "billion" simply by taking the number of full-time special education students, assuming that 80 percent could be moved to part-time settings, and multiplying the number of students subject to this move by the $10,000 difference between the cost of full-time and part-time placement. No witness for the State sponsored any such calculation, and there was thus no opportunity to test the Appellate Division's assumptions on which it is based.
The available evidence-based conclusions are that over-
referral to special education costs City schools somewhere
between tens of millions and $335 million. Even the lower of
these figures would reflect both resources squandered and the
likelihood that many children are badly served and perhaps
stigmatized by segregated placements in the special education
We need not speculate further on the possible saving from special education placement, however, for the State's argument on Board of Education mismanagement fails for a more basic reason. As the trial court and Appellate Division recognized (187 Misc 2d at 81-82, 295 AD2d at 18-19), both the Board of Education and the City are "creatures or agents of the State," which delegated whatever authority over education they wield ( City of New York v State of New York, , 86 NY2d 286, 289-290 ). Thus, the State remains responsible when the failures of its agents sabotage the measures by which it secures for its citizens their constitutionally-mandated rights.
As our ensuing discussion of remedy shows, various
reforms unrelated to financing -- some already in the works --
may be part of the package of legislative and administrative
measures necessary to ensure a sound basic education to New York
City schoolchildren. The requirement stated in CFE, however, was
for plaintiffs to "establish a causal link between the present
Moreover, in every instance where the State has relied on purported political or managerial failings of the City or the Board of Education, closer inspection of the details casts doubt on whether the City could eliminate the failing without the State's help or would have developed the failing without the State's involvement. The issue of special education is illustrative. The trial court held that "the primary causes of New York City's overreferral and overplacement in restrictive settings are a lack of support services in general education and State aid incentives that tended until recently to encourage restrictive placements" (187 Misc 2d at 95). This conclusion is supported by the record and was not disturbed by the Appellate Division. Thus, the State cannot blame overreferral on the institutional culture of the Board of Education and City schools without acknowledging that this culture has evolved to its present condition partly in response to the funding system. At the very least, under CFE, this problem does not constitute a cause sufficiently independent from the State's funding system to overcome plaintiffs' case.
Similar reasoning disposes of the State's argument that
the Board of Education's inefficient management of personnel is
the supervening cause that, rather than the funding system,
Local Funding. Of the State's rebuttal arguments, one
more requires special attention. The State argues that the City
actually has a greater capacity to fund education from local
revenues than many local governments Statewide, yet fails to make
anything like the same "tax effort" that other localities make.
Indeed, the State marshals evidence that when the State injects
funds pursuant to formulas intended to compensate for
inequalities in local school funding, the City deducts
The trial court found evidence to support this assertion; noted unique pressures on the City budget and other factors that account for some of the difference in tax effort; and concluded that the ultimate responsibility to address this problem still lay with the State (187 Misc 2d at 97-99). The Appellate Division expressly rejected the State's contention that "any inadequacy in funding is the fault of the City," noting that "the State exerts extensive control over the City, including taxes that may be levied and debts that may be incurred," but reflecting that the remedy, rather than "requiring the State to write out a check every time the City underfunds education" may be for the State to "require the City to maintain a certain level of education funding" (295 2 at 18-19).
Here, therefore, there is next to no dispute. If the State believes that deficient City tax effort is a significant contributing cause to the underfunding of City schools, it is for the State -- through a combination of enforcing existing laws such as the Stavisky-Goodman Law (Education Law § 2576[5-a]) and new legislation -- to consider corrective measures. This possibility pertains to the remedy, not to the definition of plaintiffs' burden of proof on causation or -- what amounts to the same thing in practice -- to the determination of whether plaintiffs' cause of action is viable.
In CFE Judge Simons argued otherwise, citing declining City contributions to the school budget as part of his reason why plaintiffs' claim should have been dismissed (86 2 at 334, 340-341). The State essentially tries to revive this argument, contending that plaintiffs must lose because they have not shown why their grievance could not be addressed by measures less drastic than constitutional adjudication: greater effort by the City, whether voluntary or statutory. The analysis we have already outlined regarding responsibility for special education placement and teacher employment practices applies here again. Relative to the State, the City has "absolutely no control" over the school funding system ( City v State, 86 NY2d at 295) and while any failings may be considered in determining the remedy, they do not constitute a supervening cause sufficient to decide the case for the State. Plaintiffs have established the causation element of their claim.
V. The Remedy
Challenging as the previous issues are, in complexity
they pale by comparison to the final question: remedy. Pointing
to a long history of State inaction despite its knowledge of the
inadequacy of the education finance system, plaintiffs ask us to
initiate a legislative/judicial dialogue by issuing guidelines to
the Legislature for restructuring the system and directing --
with strict timetables -- that the necessary resources be
provided. The State, by contrast, urges that, should a
Both extremes are problematic. We are, of course, mindful -- as was the trial court -- of the responsibility, underscored by the State, to defer to the Legislature in matters of policymaking, particularly in a matter so vital as education financing, which has as well a core element of local control. We have neither the authority, nor the ability, nor the will, to micromanage education financing. By the same token, in plaintiffs' favor, it is the province of the Judicial branch to define, and safeguard, rights provided by the New York State Constitution, and order redress for violation of them. Surely there is a remedy more promising, and ultimately less entangling for the courts, than simply directing the parties to eliminate deficiencies, as the State would have us do.
The trial court ordered the State first to ascertain
the actual cost of providing a sound basic education State-wide,
and then reform the system to (1) ensure that every school
district has the resources necessary to provide a sound basic
education; (2) take into account variations in local costs; (3)
provide sustained and stable funding in order to promote long-
term planning by school districts; (4) provide "as much
transparency as possible so that the public may understand how
the State distributes School aid"; and (5) ensure a system of
accountability to measure the effect of reforms implemented ( id.
The State objects to each of these guidelines on various grounds, but a common theme is that existing reforms already address existing problems. Indeed, ongoing Federal, State and City programs -- several initiated after the close of trial -- likely constitute the most ambitious education reform in recent years. Starting at the Federal level, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (Pub L 107 115 Stat 1425 2002]), amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (20 USC § 6301 et seq.), now requires states to establish mechanisms to identify schools where student performance does not meet standards set by each state. To qualify for Federal education funding, states must give children who attend such schools remedial options, such as tutoring or the right to transfer to a better school.
As part of a Statewide procedure to identify schools in
need of improvement, a number of City schools have been
designated as Schools Under Registration Review ("SURR") ( see 8
NYCRR 100.2[p]). This SURR list consists of those schools the
Commissioner of Education deems farthest from meeting
accountability criteria tied to the Learning Standards (8 NYCRR
In addition to Federal and State measures directed at identifying and improving bad schools, significant legislation reorganizing City school governance has been passed since the trial ( see L 2002, ch 91; cf. L 2003, chs 6, 15). The legislation enhances the powers and duties of the Mayor of New York City and persons accountable to the Mayor -- notably the Chancellor -- to manage school finances and the School Construction Authority, and select and supervise district superintendents and other staff ( see Mem of Legis Rep of City of NY, 2002 McKinney's Session Laws of NY, at 1718-1719).
Further, through an ongoing process of reform, the
Regents have sought to reduce the employment of uncertified
teachers and fortify the requirements for certification ( see e.g.
8 NYCRR 80-3.4; 80-5.10[j]). Likewise, regulations adopted with
the Learning Standards and intended to improve the rigor of
instruction Statewide are close to being fully phased-in; for
All of these initiatives promise, but await, demonstrable outcomes. We are, of course, bound to decide this case on the record before us and cannot conjecture about the possible effect of pending reforms, at least when determining whether, on the evidence gathered over four years and presented during the seven-month trial, a constitutional violation exists. To the extent that recent reforms enable more students to receive a sound basic education, the State will have the opportunity on remittal to present evidence of such developments.
For similar reasons, we cannot join the dissent in attaching significance to State budget figures showing that in 2002-2003, "the City enrolled 37 percent of the State's public school population and was allocated 37 percent of the combined major aid enacted" (dissent at 14). Presumably the dissent cites this figure as proof that any inequalities in the funding system have been remedied since trial. But under Levittown and CFE, plaintiffs have a right not to equal State funding but to schools that provide the opportunity for a sound basic education.
Aside from this, even assuming the 2002-2003 figures --
which were not part of the record -- were properly before us, the
dissent misstates their significance. They are based on total
aidable pupil units ("TAPU," Education Law § 3602[ii]) and
Given all of the jurisprudential constraints discussed
above, we begin our review of the trial court's directives by
rejecting the provision that the remedy be Statewide, and that
Second, we recognize that mechanisms in place, including No Child Left Behind and the SURR process, may already to some extent function as a system of accountability. They are not foolproof, and neither is tied to the definition of a sound basic education. Nevertheless, the State should be able to build on existing criteria to identify the schools in greatest need and set measurable goals for their improvement.
Third, we are not prepared to say as a constitutional
matter that a new system must ensure the City "sustained and
stable funding." The language of this directive may appear
unobjectionable, but in the context of the trial court's decision
it implies a need for fundamental change in the relationship
between New York City schools and their local tax base. The
school districts in New York City, Buffalo, Yonkers, Syracuse and
Rochester -- unlike every other district in the State -- are
"fiscally dependent": they lack the authority to levy property
Fourth, as the foregoing implies, the trial court
properly indicated that reforms may address governance as well as
the school funding system. Various factors alleged by the State
as causes of deficiencies in the schools -- and rejected by us on
the ground that the State has ultimate responsibility for the
conduct of its agents and the quality of education in New York
City public schools -- may be addressed legislatively or
administratively as part of the remedy. We do not think such
Finally, we know of no practical way to determine whether members of the political branches have complied with an order that the funding process become as transparent as possible, and we therefore decline to incorporate such a directive into our order. No one, however, disputes the trial court's description of the existing education funding scheme as needlessly complex, malleable and not designed to align funding with need (187 Misc 2d at 82-90). The causes are worth considering.
As Levittown indicates, the justification for a school funding system based on local taxation is "the preservation and promotion of local control of education" (57 2 at 44). Conversely, the purposes of State aid to schools are, according to the SED, to assist school districts in providing an effective education; maintain a State-local partnership in public education; equalize school revenues by providing State aid in inverse proportion to each school district's ability to raise local revenues; and to encourage model programs to address the needs of the school community. Clearly these purposes reflect a recognition that inputs should be calibrated to student need and hence that State aid should increase where need is high and local ability to pay is low.
In the case of New York City, student need is high, as
is the local ability to pay, as measured by the State's Combined
Thus, the political process allocates to City schools a share of State aid that does not bear a perceptible relation to the needs of City students. While we do not join the trial court in ordering that the process be made as transparent as possible, we do agree that the funding level necessary to provide City students with the opportunity for a sound basic education is an ascertainable starting point. Once the necessary funding level is determined, the question will be whether the inputs and outputs improve to a constitutionally acceptable level. Other questions about the process -- such as how open it is and how the burden is distributed between the State and City -- are matters for the Legislature desiring to enact good laws.
In view of the alternatives that the parties have
presented, we modify the trial court's threshold guideline that
the State ascertain "the actual costs of providing a sound basic
education in districts around the State" (187 Misc 2d at 115).
The process of determining the actual cost of providing a sound basic education in New York City and enacting appropriate reforms naturally cannot be completed overnight, and we therefore recognize that defendants should have until July 30, 2004 to implement the necessary measures.
We offer these concluding thoughts, against the backdrop of the dissent.
Courts are, of course, well suited to adjudicate civil
and criminal cases and extrapolate legislative intent (dissent at
19). They are, however, also well suited to interpret and
safeguard constitutional rights and review challenged acts of our
co-equal branches of government -- not in order to make policy
Nor is the Court's standard of a sound basic education,
articulated both in Levittown and CFE, "illusory" for failing to
fix the moment when a meaningful high school education is
achieved (dissent at 2-12). As the dissent itself exemplifies by
"of course" rejecting the eighth (or ninth) grade test of the
Appellate Division and offering no other, a constitutional
standard of sound basic education need not pinpoint a date with
statutory precision, so long as it defines the contours of the
requirement, against which the facts of a case may then be
Indeed, a sound basic education back in 1894, when
Finally, the remedy is hardly extraordinary or unprecedented (dissent at 18). It is, rather, an effort to learn from our national experience and fashion an outcome that will address the constitutional violation instead of inviting decades of litigation. A case in point is the experience of our neighbor, the New Jersey Supreme Court, which in its landmark education decision 30 years ago simply specified the constitutional deficiencies, beginning more than a dozen trips to the Court (dissent at 19, n 12), a process that led over time to more focused directives by that court ( compare Robinson v Cahill, 63 NJ 196, 198  with Abbott v Burke, 119 NJ 287, 385-391 ). In other jurisdictions, the process has generated considerably less litigation, possibly because courts there initially offered more detailed remedial directions, as we do ( see e.g. Rose v Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 SW2d 186, 215-216 [Ky 1989]). We do not share the dissent's belief that any constitutional ruling adverse to the present scheme will inevitably be met with the kind of sustained legislative resistance that may have occurred elsewhere.
Nor is it certain that plaintiffs' success will
necessarily inspire a host of imitators throughout the State
We trust that fixing a few signposts in the road yet to be traveled by the parties will shorten the already arduous journey and help to achieve the hoped-for remedy.
Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be modified and the case remitted to Supreme Court for further proceedings in accordance with this Opinion, and as so modified affirmed, with costs to plaintiffs.
I concur in and join the decision of the Chief
Judge and the decision to
modify the order of the Appellate
Division. I write separately in order to focus on several
aspects of this litigation. I conclude that (a) the Regents
Learning Standards provide students with the minimum skills
required by a sound basic education, (b) the remedy should be
The Importance of a Sound Basic Education
It is commonly said that education is the State's most
important responsibility. Education is just one of the many
responsibilities of the State. Only a few of the
responsibilities involving the provision of certain services are
actually mentioned in the State Constitution. These include the
incarceration of criminals,
helping the needy,
housing for the poor and the elderly.
Of the three, only the
clause dealing with helping the needy contains the mandatory
the statement, The legislature shall provide for the maintenance
and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the
children of this state may be educated (article XI, § 1). The
only discretion is in the hands of parents who do not have to
send their children to public schools. Since education is the
most important responsibility of the State, it follows, a priori,
that building schools that provide children with a sound
education is more important than building jails to incarcerate
criminals, shelters to house the homeless, and low income housing
for the poor. This order of priorities recognizes that a child
who has an opportunity for a sound education is less likely to
become a criminal or be homeless.
Sound Basic Education Equals A High School Education
Throughout this litigation, the State has ferociously
clung to the argument that a sound basic education consists of
the ability to read, write, and do math at a rudimentary level.
Since these skills are generally acquired by the eighth or ninth
grade, the State then argues that this is the constitutional
what legitimately might be called an education are the basic
literacy (reading and writing) and computational skills and, in a
public educational system, citizenship awareness. A public
educational system failing to provide the opportunity to acquire
those basic skills would not be worthy of that appellation (id.
at 331). Judge Levine disagreed with the holding of the majority
that a sound education should consist of the basic literacy,
calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to
eventually function productively as civic participants capable of
voting and serving on a jury ( id. at 316). The majority in CFE
I also stated that this definition did not definitively specify
what the constitutional concept and mandate of a sound basic
education entails, which would take place after discovery and
development of a factual record ( id. 317). At this point, the
discovery has taken place, and the factual record has been
The record establishes what would strike many as an
obvious truth: A high school education is today as indispensable
need the opportunity for more than a ninth grade
education to be productive citizens. Back in the 19th century, a
high school education was not needed to obtain a good job. Now,
a high school education is a pre-requisite to most good jobs.
have done so in spite of, not because of, the lack of a high
school education. While it may be true that there will always be
menial low-skills jobs, and thus a need for people to fill them,
it should not be the purpose of the public schools to prepare
students for those jobs, which are limited in number and
It is worth nothing that although a secondary education was not as prevalent at the time the Education Article was adopted as it is today, free public education included a high school education. It was in 1853, almost forty years before the adoption of the Education Article, that the Legislature began allowing districts to form union districts, which could establish a high school. Thus, the public school system that the Education Article constitutionalized included a system that provided a free high school education.
A sound education also connotes the necessary
preparation to acquire higher education. In connection with the
second section of the Education Article, which constitutionalized
the Regents, the Constitutional Convention committee on education
stated that [h]igher education here, as in every other civilized
Thus, the Education Article requires the opportunity for a sound high school education that should prepare students for higher education, or to compete in the employment market of high school graduates.
The Legislature has prescribed that the Regents shall
Pursuant to their delegated authority, the Regents
establish the requirements students must satisfy in order to
obtain a high school diploma.
In the past, students could obtain
a local high school diploma by passing the Regents Competency
Tests (RCTs). Plaintiffs offered unchallenged testimony that the
RCTs measured eighth grade reading skills and sixth grade math
skills. Students who wished to obtain a Regents diploma were
required to pass more rigorous tests. That system is being
phased out, and a new system is being phased in. Under the new
system, students are required to pass five state-administered
Regents Examinations in four subject areas (English, mathematics,
social studies and science) that are aligned with new Learning
The State argues that the Learning Standards are aspirational and world-class. That the minimum requirements in order to obtain a high school diploma are aspirational, which connotes striving for something that is not necessarily achievable, may actually come as a surprise to high school students who must satisfy them. If these tests are aspirational, then the tests for an advanced high school diploma must be ultra aspirational. While some witnesses described the Learning Standards as high and rigorous, all the witnesses testified that they represent the minimum students need in order to be productive citizens. In his memorandum to the Regents explaining the Learning Standards and urging the Regents to adopt them, Commissioner Mills stated: All children need strong skills and knowledge to grow into competent, caring, productive adults and citizens in a free society. To give any student an undemanding or watered-down education is not a kindness; it's wrong. Commissioner Mills testified that at-risk students can satisfy the Learning Standards, but that they require additional resources in order to do so.
The Chancellor of the Regents, Carl T. Hayden testified that the Learning Standards sought to reverse the education system's inexorable slide into mediocrity, and that too many children were graduating but could not demonstrate the rudiments of reading, writing and computation. He testified that the ultimate purpose of the Learning Standards is to give our young people the skills and knowledge they need in order to be effective citizens, effective mothers and fathers, effective participants in our great democratic enterprise and people who can compete in an economy that is in the midst of a dramatic transformation. Moreover, he testified that the Learning Standards are not too high. These standards represent our judgment about what our young people need.
SED Deputy Commissioner for Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing
Education, James A. Kadamus, testified that the standards were based on
studies that we had done of what it takes to be successful in the world of
work and be successful in higher education, and so it is based on the current
- _ what are the current requirements of the work force and higher education.
He testified that [w]e want all students to achieve a certain set of
standards without holding back students that could go way beyond that point,
so we want both. We want all students to achieve the learning standards, and
the students who have the motivation and capability who could go far beyond,
we want the incentives to do that. The standards are beyond the competency
standards; they go beyond basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills.
The State relies on the latter statement and others in arguing that the
Learning Standards are too high. A sound basic education requires teaching
and learning the skills to become a productive citizen. Rudimentary reading,
writing and math are not enough. Thus, the Learning Standards are high only
to the extent that they require more than being able to perform simple math,
and read and write at the most basic level.
It is clear that in comparison to the
The record establishes that the RCTs did not meet the
constitutional minimum because at the high school level, they
prepared students to read at an eighth grade level or perform
sixth grade mathematics. As a result, students who obtained a
local diploma were not assured that they received a high school
education. They might have graduated from high school, but the
education offered was effectively primary. It is this Court's constitutional responsibility to
review the educational standards established by the Regents and
determine whether they meet the constitutional minimum. A
finding that the Learning Standards meet the constitutional
minimum does not somehow constitute an abdication of this Court's
responsibility to interpret the Education Article. On the
contrary, it would be the failure to review the educational
policies of the state to determine if they satisfy the
requirement of the Education Article that would constitute a
dereliction of this Court's duty to say what the law is. To
conclude that c
ourts should not question what the Legislature,
through the Regents, determines is a sound basic education is to
conclude that this Court should play no role in interpreting the
Education Article. It is the responsibility of the State to
offer the opportunity of a sound basic education, and it is the
responsibility of this Court to determine whether the State is
fulfilling its responsibility to the plaintiffs.
It is this Court's constitutional responsibility to
review the educational standards established by the Regents and
determine whether they meet the constitutional minimum. A
finding that the Learning Standards meet the constitutional
minimum does not somehow constitute an abdication of this Court's
responsibility to interpret the Education Article. On the
contrary, it would be the failure to review the educational
policies of the state to determine if they satisfy the
requirement of the Education Article that would constitute a
dereliction of this Court's duty to say what the law is. To
conclude that c
The Formulas Do Not Equal A Sound Basic Education
New York's public education system is supported and
Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers), on the other hand, have
constitutional tax limits that apply to the total municipal
budget. In addition, the boards of education of the Big 5 lack
the authority to levy taxes, making them fiscally dependent.
Rather, their appropriations are part of the overall budget,
which is funded through city-wide taxes, including property
taxes, sales taxes, and income taxes. As stated by Dr. Robert
Berne, Vice President for Academic Development and Professor of
Public Administration at New York University, this means that
within the confines of the City budget process, education
competes directly for other municipal services as opposed to
being separate in an independent school district. According to
the SED, the fiscal dependence on these school districts is
fraught with problems related to level and stability of funding
and the effective use of education dollars. One obvious problem
for districts in the Big 5 is that during a fiscal crisis, local
appropriations for schools may fall dramatically, affecting their
ability to provide the opportunity for a sound education. The
The State uses a system comprised of about 54 formulas
to distribute about 13 billion dollars of State aid.
Historically, New York City has received close to 34 percent of
the total of State aid
. For 1999, the New York City's Board of
Education had a budget of 9.8 billion dollars. The average per-
pupil expenditure for that year was $8,957. The roughly 1.1
million public school students in New York City make up 37
percent of the total State student population. About 80 percent
of New York City students qualify for the federal government's
free and reduced lunch program that is targeted to poor students.
About 72 percent are African-American or Hispanic. About 80
The most important category of formulas is termed basic operating aid, which distributes 5 to 6 billion dollars of State aid based on weighted attendance and wealth of school districts. Although we held in Board of Educ., Levittown Union Free Dist. Nyquist (57 2 27 ) that the Education Article does not require equality of educational resources, operating aid seeks to have a wealth equalizing effect by giving more to low-value property districts and less to high-value property districts. Operating aid also distributes flat grants to each district regardless of the level of wealth.
New York City receives about 36 percent of operating
aid. Mr. Kadamus testified that operating aid treats New York
City as an average wealth district, overlooking the high
concentration of poverty. Thus, it is impossible for that
particular aid formula to drive a lot of additional money into
New York City, so, therefore, you have to use other parts of the
formulas to do that and so far those parts of the formulas have
compared to the operating aid
The State did make an attempt to ensure that high-need
districts have adequate resources by adopting an Extraordinary
Needs Aid formula in 1993. About 93 percent of New York City
students fall within the ENA formula. Thus, New York City
received most of the funding allocated to ENA. Despite this,
however, New York City's total State aid allocation hardly
changed after ENA was phased in, largely because ENA only
accounts for about five percent of the total State aid. Mr.
Kadamus testified that ENA fails to provide districts with high-
need students with the needed funds.
The former director of the
State Division of the Budget,
Robert L. King, testified that the
central budget office had not determined whether the amount
allocated under ENA provided schools with the necessary funds to
educate at-risk children. In the same vein, the Division has not
sought to determine whether school districts have sufficient
resources to provide students with an adequate education.
Year after year the formulas have consistently failed
to measure the actual costs necessary to provide New York City
students with a sound education. Rather, New York City's share
of State aid has been close to 38.86 percent regardless of the
City's actual education needs. The record supports Dr. Berne's
The Paper Trail
The ineffectiveness of the formulas has been documented
by the Regents. While the Regents are responsible for
establishing educational policy in the State, they have no
equivalent power with respect to funding. That power is in the
hands of the Governor and the Legislature. However, the Regents,
along with the Commissioner of Education, suggest to the
Legislature the amount of spending they believe is necessary to
meet the educational goals they have established. Each year, the
Regents and the SED submit to the
Governor and the Legislature an
annual report containing a great deal of information about the
state of the education system, which is designed to ensure
greater correlation between student outcomes and expenditures
do not provide adequately for all students, especially the most needy
are unduly complicated, with 53 separate formulas governing the distribution of aid
inhibit local flexibility, since many kinds of aid require specific programs whether or not such programs are the best use of the money
entail no accountability for results, because districts continue to receive the money no matter what
do not deal adequately with local differences in wealth and cost
do not adequately support needed improvements in teaching and learning * * *
lack public credibility, for all of these reasons.
The preface to the 1999 annual report prepared by the Regents and the SED finds that:
With few exceptions, the formulas do not consider the extra help in achieving the standards needed by children placed at risk by poverty and limited proficiency in English. Thus, because New York City's property and income wealth per pupil is close to the State
average, its State aid allocation per pupil is also close to the State average. The fact that the City's percentage of students eligible for free lunches exceeds the State average by 28 percentage points (73 compared with 45 percent) does not substantially increase their State aid allocation.
A 1999 Discussion Paper prepared by the SED for the Regents Subcommittee on State Aid concluded the formulas did not take into account regional cost differences in professional service costs and the number of high need pupils. The Paper made several proposals, which it noted,
recognize and correct the fundamental unfairness of allocating $3,000 in State aid per pupil to districts which are identical in fiscal capacity. One district is located in a high cost area of the State where this $3,000 has a purchasing power of only $2,250 and 80 percent of the student body live in households that fall below poverty. The second district is in a low cost area of the State where the purchasing power equivalent of this $3,000 is $3,500 per pupil and only 10 percent of its student body is poor.
The paper also reaffirmed the conclusion of substantial prior
research that as the concentration of children in poverty
increased at the school building level, achievement decreased.
These negative achievements effects were not trivial but
dramatic. As to the relationship between funding and student
was almost three times greater than the comparison percentage of other districts similar to New York City in their wealth. Since State aid is highly equalizing with respect to wealth, but less well equalized with respect to the concentration of disadvantaged pupils, the unusually high concentration of disadvantaged pupils places it at a funding disadvantage.
Although the distribution of 10.4 billion dollars in State aid was found to be highly wealth equalized when it was recalculated on a poverty-weighted pupil basis, the desired equalization of the current aid distribution diminished significantly.
The same conclusion was reached by the Regents' Proposal on State Aid to School Districts for the School Year 2000-01. According to its foreword:
At a time when the Regents have imposed higher standards for graduation throughout the State's public schools, it is important that State aid to school districts must be better targeted on those districts with the highest costs and the farthest to go to meet the standards. * * *
Throughout history, State Aid to
education has not been distributed
in a manner that both recognized
student need and provided
incentives for academic
improvement. In addition, schools
and districts were not held
Aid has been
distributed on a district's
theoretical capacity to pay for
education, with limited regard to
educating its students to desired
The New York City School District
has been affected by this process
with its near-average wealth and
high student need. The result is
that the district has never enjoyed
State Aid increases that reflect
the costs of educating all students
to levels accepted in the rest of
the State. Student results have
shown that many schools have great
difficulty in meeting student
needs. The State and the nation
must face the exorbitant costs for
public assistance, criminal justice
and lost productivity that such
education failure requires.
Chancellor of the Regents, Dr. Hayden, was
asked, Do you believe that you have a thorough understanding of
the state aid formula system? He replied, I do not. When
asked why not, he said, I think it defies scrutiny * * * quite
frankly, I think there are very few people in the State of New
York who understand the state aid formula and how it works * * *
I believe the public is at an extreme disadvantage when it cannot
follow the way in which money moves. The same sentiment was
expressed by Dr. Sobol. He testified that the complexity of the
the aid where we
thought it was most needed, namely, with those students who were
not now enjoying the benefits of the resources needed to require
the sound basic education . Under his helm, the SED was
concerned with disparities in wealth and cost across the state
not only because of the inequality, but because of the
inadequacy, because, in some situations, it makes it impossible
for local schools or school districts to provide the conditions
that students need if they were to obtain the sound, basic
education under the constitution. New York City was one of
these school districts.
current Commissioner, Dr. Mills, testified that he
did not have a deep understanding of how the formulas work, and
that only very few people do. Dr. Berne, who is one of those
few people, testified that the formulas are extremely complex,
making it hard for most people in the State to understand and
* * * easier for manipulation. The shares agreement negates
the general factors that are shown in the formulas * * * that are
supposedly driving resources to children in school districts.
The complexity of the formulas and the decision to predetermine
the amount New York City students need are the culprit for the
lack of alignment between educational goals and the components
of the school finance system. Defendant Governor Pataki has
called the formulas incomprehensible, convoluted, and
The formulas have consistently failed to provide New
York City schools with the funds necessary to allow them to
provide a sound education for
their students. Despite constant
fine-tuning, the formulas have impeded the duty of the
Legislature to maintain and support an effective system of public
schools in New York City. In fact, their Byzantine complexity
makes it possible for aid to be distributed in an arbitrary
manner that bears no relationship between educational goals and
costs associated with meeting those needs. Consequently, the
formulas are incompatible with the Legislature's duty to provide
a sound education to New York City students. Since the formulas
are used to distribute aid to all the schools in the State, the
remedy must necessarily affect the entire interdependent school
system. In place of the formulas, the Legislature should
institute a scheme that:
(1) eliminates the current state formula for distributing aid to New York City;
(2) determines, to the extent possible, the actual costs of the resources needed to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education in all school districts in the State;
(3) ensures that at a minimum every school district has the necessary
funds to provide an opportunity for a sound basic education to all of its students.
While the foregoing may not guarantee that the
opportunity of a basic education will be available to all the
children in the State, they are necessary steps in that
direction. In sum, I join the decision of the Chief Judge, but
the Constitution requires
the State to do even more than is
stated to ensure a sound basic education for all students.
This case is not about whether education is important
for the vitality of our democracy -- of course, it is. This case
is not about whether the children who attend New York City's
public schools require more than an eighth-grade education to
meet the demands of today's world -- of course, they do. This
case is not about whether New York City's public schools have too
often failed to furnish our children the educational
opportunities that they deserve -- of course, they have. These
are obvious truths, universally acknowledged, which have lately
spurred the most significant educational reform effort in the
Sound Basic Education
The New York Constitution does not mandate an
educational system of a certain quality in express terms. The
relevant constitutional text simply reads: "The legislature
shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free
common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be
educated" (NY Const, art XI, § 1).
The words "sound basic
The plaintiffs and intervenors in Levittown sought a declaration that the State's school financing system, then as now comprised of local taxation and State aid, violated the Equal Protection Clauses of the State and US Constitutions and the State Constitution's Education Article because of the funding disparities between wealthier and poorer school districts. We rejected the equal protection claims on the ground that the State had demonstrated a rational basis for its school financing system: "the preservation and promotion of local control of education" ( id. at 44).
We further observed that the Education Article focuses
on a State-wide system assuring minimal acceptable facilities
and services, not a system assuring equal educational facilities
and services throughout the State ( id. at 47). We recognized
that the State undeniably had in place a system of free schools
and a statutory framework requiring minimum days of school
attendance, specific courses, textbooks and qualifications for
"[i]f what is made available by this system (which is
what is to be maintained and supported) may properly be said to constitute an education, the constitutional
mandate is satisfied.
Interpreting the term education, as we do, to
connote a sound basic education, we have no difficulty
in determining that the constitutional requirement is
being met in this State, in which it is said without
contradiction that the average per pupil expenditure
exceeds that in all other States but two" ( id. at 48
We were careful to register our reluctance to interfere with the Legislature's funding allocations among competing imperatives by mandating an even higher priority for education funding "in the absence, possibly, of gross and glaring inadequacy" ( id. [emphasis added]).
The suggestion in Levittown of a possibly justiciable
claim became a reality in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of
New York (86 2 307 [" CFE I"]). Because the case came to
us in the procedural posture of a motion to dismiss, all the
complaint's averments were deemed true ( see CFE I, 86 NY2d at
318). We did not, however, measure the allegations of gross and
glaring inadequacy against the constitutional standard to
determine if the complaint stated a cause of action under the
Education Article. In fact, we refused to "attempt to
definitively specify what the constitutional concept and mandate
of a sound basic education entails" ( id. at 317). Instead, we
crafted a "template" ("the basic literacy, calculating, and
verbal skills necessary to enable [children] to function as civic
Thus was a constitutional standard transformed into the end product of a trial at which experts aired differing views of what is required for minimal educational proficiency and employment success in a competitive urban society. The trial court would be left with policy choices to make, not factual contentions to resolve. The trial court would have to fashion "the constitutional concept and mandate of [what] a sound basic education entails" on the testimony of competing experts ( id. at 317.
The risks inherent in this novel approach to
constitutional adjudication have now been realized.
Today the majority defines a "sound basic education" as
"a meaningful high school education, one which prepares [young
This begs the question of how the courts (or the other branches) are expected to figure out whether the majority's constitutional minimum (i.e., a "sound basic education" defined as a "meaningful high school education" that prepares students "to function productively as civic participants") has been met if completion of the twelfth grade and graduation are irrelevant. Similarly, the majority observes that a "high school level education is now all but indispensable" for employment (majority opn at 9), without suggesting how a job applicant establishes that level of competence absent a diploma. Further, if the majority means to imply that some quantum of high school education short of graduation comprises a "meaningful high school education," how is this measured other than by relating it to completion of some grade level lower than the twelfth?
The requirements for a high school diploma are defined
by the State Education Department (8 NYCRR § 100.5 ).
Students who entered ninth grade in 2001-2002 and those
Although the majority resists adopting the Regents Learning Standards to define a "sound basic education" or a "meaningful high school education," the Board of Regents is, in fact, the constitutionally designated educational policy making body in our State. "The adoption of regulations with respect to graduation requirements, including basic competency examinations, to establish a standard that would make a high school diploma in this State a meaningful credential of the graduate, is clearly within the authority and power of [the Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education]" ( Matter of Board of Educ. of Northport-East Northport Union Free School Dist. v Ambach, 90 AD2d 227, 231-232 [3d Dept 1982] affd , 60 NY2d 758 ).
Further, the majority offers no objective reference
point as an alternative to the Regents Learning Standards. In
order to determine whether "inputs" are sufficient to avoid a
constitutional violation, the majority must look to "outputs"
The "outputs" section of the majority opinion underscores the problematic nature of the constitutional standard of its devising. First, my colleagues "presume that a dropout has not received a sound basic education" and rely on evidence to support this presumption (majority opn at 23). They then observe that between a quarter and half of all dropouts do so after completing four years of high school (majority opn at 23, n 6). If dropouts by definition do not receive a "meaningful high school education," then it logically follows that the recipient of a high school diploma is the only student who does. Students either graduate from high school or drop out -- there is no middle ground where a "meaningful high school education" makes any sense.
Next, the majority criticizes the probative value of test results offered by the State on an assortment of commercially-available nationally-normed reading and math tests administered to children in City elementary schools because the results were referenced to a norm rather than to achievement levels (majority opn at 29). Even though New York City's elementary school students rank in the middle nationally in terms of the reading and mathematical skills of their peers, the majority views these tests results as irrelevant because [t]he State has not shown how to translate these results into proof that the schools are delivering a sound basic education, properly defined (majority opn at 30 [emphasis added]). I fail to grasp why scores reflecting a proficiency for New York City students which is equal to, or better than, that of half of their peers nationally still falls short of a constitutional minimum.
Lastly, the majority discounts the Regents Competency Tests ("RCTs"), the State prerequisite for a local high school diploma, because the RCTs assess "an eighth or ninth grade level in reading and a sixth-to-eighth grade level in math" and thus do "not prove that [students] have received a meaningful high school education" (majority opn at 28). But students who receive a local diploma have successfully completed the twelfth grade. They simply have not taken Regents exams in their courses.
The indispensable nature of the "outputs" in
determining whether the New York City public school system
The majority's dilemma is easy to appreciate.
Recognizing the judiciary's limitations as an education
policymaker, my colleagues are reluctant to create a detailed
quality standard by which to define the State's obligation under
the Education Article. But they are also unwilling to cede to
the Board of Regents and the State Education Department the power
to define (and, in the future, redefine) what is claimed to be a
constitutional principle (albeit a dynamic one), not an education
policy decision. As a result, the standard that the majority has
created -- a "meaningful high school education" that prepares
students "to function productively as civic participants -- is
In Levittown, we had "no difficulty in determining that
the constitutional requirement [was] being met" by virtue of the
State's substantial financial contribution to education alone,
which placed New York third among the states in per-pupil
expenditures ( see Levittown, 57 NY2d at 48).
New York still
spends more on state aid for education than all but two states in
In 2002-03, the Legislature disbursed $12.3 billion from the General Fund for public education statewide. This represented almost 31 percent of all General Fund disbursements for the fiscal year. Moreover, the State's contribution to the New York City school system has markedly increased over the past several years, from $3.1 billion in fiscal year 1993-94 to $4.5 billion in fiscal year 1999-00 to more than $5 billion in fiscal year 2002-03. As the State's contributions have increased, the City has not kept pace. As a result, from fiscal year 1994-95 to fiscal year 1999-00, the State's share of the City's combined State and local education funding increased from 47 percent to 51 percent (approximately 10 percent of the City's education budget consists of federal funds.) Concomitantly, the City's share decreased from 53 percent in 1995-1996 to 49 percent in 1999- 2000.
In 1999-2000, the school year during which the trial in
this case ended, the Board of Education received more than $10.4
billion from all sources to operate New York City's public
schools, amounting to $9,500 per pupil. Between 1997, when the
Board's budget was $8.1 billion, and 2000, pupil spending
increased by 20 percent even after adjusting for inflation. The
City reports its current school year overall budget to have risen
to $12.4 billion, or $11,300 per enrolled student. In addition
In short, very substantial sums are spent on New York City's public schools. If it were counted as a state, New York City would rank fifth in per-pupil expenditures; it would rank ninth if spending were adjusted for cost-of-living differences. Again, the State contributes about half of these very substantial sums.
The plaintiffs originally complained that New York City's public schools were necessarily underfunded by the State because they enrolled 37 percent of the State's public school population but received slightly less than 35 percent of the total State aid distributed. Addressing this point in CFE I, Judge Simons in his dissent pointed out that "[t]here is no constitutional requirement * * * that the State maintain exact parity in the financial aid distributed to the several thousand school districts" ( CFE I, 86 NY2d at 340). In any event, for the 2002-2003 school year, the City enrolled 37 percent of the State's public school population and was allocated 37 percent of the combined major aid enacted ( see New York State Division of the Budget, Education Unit, Description of 2002-03 New York State School Aid Programs, p 35, Table II-E).
In this lawsuit, plaintiffs assert that the Education
Article establishes a particular quality standard, and that New
In fact, of course, educational deficiencies are not
always attributable to the lack of money or necessarily cured by
For example, the majority points to excessive class size as a measurably deficient "input." Certainly, the Board of Education might hire more teachers if increased funds were made available for this purpose. Class size, however, is also a function of how the Board deploys its teachers. Before their recently negotiated collective bargaining agreement, the City's teachers had a shorter contractual teaching day than was the case in any other school district in the State or in other large urban districts across the nation. New York City has one teacher for every 14.1 students, placing it in the top 10 percent of large districts across the nation. By comparison, Los Angeles, the second largest school system in the nation, has one teacher for every 20.8 students.
Further, the Board of Education employs thousands of teachers who are not assigned classroom teaching duties. Thus, although the City employs roughly the same number of teachers per student as the rest of the State, its class sizes are much larger.
Nor does additional funding for more teachers or increased teacher pay neatly translate into the assignment of more qualified teaching staff to the "worst" schools. For example, the record clearly established that the most inexperienced teachers are routinely placed in the worst schools. This situation is likely to persist, regardless of the number of teachers or their pay, so long as the collective bargaining agreement between the teachers' union and the school district allows more experienced teachers to opt out to better schools.
The majority first directs the State to determine the
actual cost of a "sound basic education" and to ensure that every
school in New York City has the necessary funding to meet the
This remedy is extraordinary, if not unprecedented. Having determined that the State is not satisfying its constitutional obligations with respect to the education of New York City's public school children, we should -- as the State requests -- simply specify the constitutional deficiencies. It is up to the Legislature, as the entity charged with primary responsibility under the Education Article for maintaining the State's system of public education, and the Executive, who shares responsibility with the Legislature, to implement a remedy. This lawsuit should be at an end. Instead, the majority, observing that "the political process allocates to City schools a share of State aid that does not bear a perceptible relation to the needs of City students" (majority opn at 50), casts the courts in the role of judicial overseer of the Legislature. This disregards the prudential bounds of the judicial function, if not the separation of powers.
Moreover, as soon as the trial court is called upon to
evaluate the cost and educational effectiveness of whatever new
Our remedy also signals the demise of local control, a
key component to the constitutionalization of New York's public
school system. Long before the Education Article's adoption in
1894, New Yorkers were free to require their local schools to
provide more than a minimal education. As Levittown instructs,
this may be done without offending the Constitution.
Nonetheless, by constitutionalizing what we would like our
Trial judges and appellate courts are well suited to assess criminal responsibility in accordance with proscribed procedures; to assign liability for breaches of duty; to extrapolate legislative intent; or to interpret commercial agreements. Each dispute is based on fact and law. They are not, however, well suited to make the subtle judgments inherent in education policymaking, or to assess how the State of New York may best allocate its limited resources to meet its citizens' educational and other pressing needs.
Of course, the majority sincerely sees itself as interpreting constitutional commands, a proper and solemn judicial function, not as making policy choices and value judgments constitutionally committed to the other branches of government. In my view, however, by this decision, the majority has allowed its deep sympathy for educational excellence to overwhelm its sense of the proper and practical limits of the judicial function.
Accordingly, I would affirm the decision of the Appellate Division, and dismiss plaintiffs' complaint.
1 After the Appellate Division's decision, the United States Supreme Court decided Gonzaga University v Doe (536 US 273 ). Though not a Title VI case, Gonzaga reinforces the conclusion the Appellate Division correctly drew from various federal circuit court decisions: that where a statute does not clearly and unambiguously create an implied private right of action, it also does not create rights enforceable under 42 USC § 1983. Plaintiffs' only argument to distinguish their case from Sandoval was that they brought their disparate impact claim under section 1983, but Gonzaga shows that this distinction is unavailing, as is plaintiffs' further attempt to distinguish Gonzaga.
2 The composition of the Board of Education and its responsibilities and the Chancellor's have changed substantially since trial ( see L 2002, ch 91, §§ 6, 11, 12). We are, of course, bound by the record, which has been subjected to adversarial scrutiny, and do not consider post-trial factual materials.
3 By contrast, the State argues that by showing that the outputs are good enough -- in particular, that City schoolchildren perform satisfactorily on certain standardized tests -- it has obviated inquiry regarding the inputs. The State reasons that many children come to City schools with socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds that put them at risk of academic failure, as the evidence confirms. Therefore, the State continues, while the City schools cannot necessarily be blamed for bad results, they surely should receive full credit for any good results. Indeed they should. But the outputs here do not support a judgment for the State.
While the State urges an affirmance based on what it considers good outputs, the dissent -- relying on Paynter -- suggests that there is something "inconsistent" about even discussing them (dissent at 9 n 6). Paynter holds that proof of inadequate inputs is necessary for an Education Article claim, not that such proof is sufficient for such a claim. Thus, our discussion of outputs is consistent with both Paynter and CFE -- which contemplated cautious use of output evidence -- as well as responsive to an argument the State made.
4 Some facts that the trial court classified as purely "physical" facilities inputs are inseparable from overcrowding and excessive class size -- conditions whose measurable effect on students plaintiffs have shown. One symptom of an overcrowded school system is the encroachment of ordinary classroom activities into what would otherwise be specialized spaces: libraries, laboratories, auditoriums and the like. There was considerable evidence of a shortage of such spaces. Particularly poignant is the fact that 31 New York City high schools serving more than 16,000 students have no science laboratory whatsoever. Whether this fact stems from overcrowding or from the design of some old school buildings, its direct impact on pedagogy is self- evident and it counts against the State in any assessment of the facilities input.
5 The counterexample the Appellate Division gives of the City's Catholic schools, where students perform relatively well despite larger class sizes (295 2 at 11), is inapposite for various reasons, including the greater flexibility Catholic schools have in choosing, disciplining and expelling students.
6 The dissent characterizes our holding as one under which "dropouts by definition do not receive a 'meaningful high school education,'" so that "it logically follows that the recipient of a high school diploma is the only student who does" (dissent at 9). But a presumption is not the same thing as a definition; it can be rebutted. The State, indeed, suggested that some students may drop out despite having received a sound basic education. But there is no evidence in the record to support the State's suggestion. If, in fact, high school graduation standards are set exceedingly high, and students can generally make a satisfactory entry into the workplace without a diploma, the State will always be free to prove these facts.
7 The evidence of Board of Education data tracking the high school classes of 1986 through 1996 is compelling that between a quarter and half of those students who drop out do so after completing four years of high school. Such students -- motivated to take extra time, if necessary, to complete high school -- still do not achieve this objective.
8 The State challenged this very conclusion with the testimony of its sociology expert, Dr. David Armor -- who performed statistical studies designed to test the effect of increased educational inputs while controlling for socioeconomic differences among students. The State argued that these studies show no correlation between increased funding and increased teacher certification rates and, further, no correlation between increased certification rates and better student scores -- but the trial court found Dr. Armor's testimony "not persuasive" (187 Misc 2d at 71), a finding the Appellate Division did not contradict.
9 The same cities have constitutional debt limits ( see NY Const, art VIII, § 4 et seq.).
10 In issuing our directive to the State we recognize that it has fiscal governance over the entire State and that in a budgetary matter the Legislature must consider that any action it takes will directly or indirectly affect its other commitments.
11 In fact the dissent, though it would affirm the Appellate Division order, identifies no holding of that court that it considers the better rule of law than those we have set forth today.
12 See the dissent in Paynter v State of New York decided today.
13 The first sentence of section 5 of Article XVII, states, The legislature may provide for the maintenance and support of institutions for the detention of persons charged with or convicted of crime and for systems of probation and parole of persons convicted of crime.
14 Article XVII, section 1, states, The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine.
15 Article XVIII, section 1, states, Subject to the provisions of this article, the legislature may provide in such manner, by such means and upon such terms and conditions as it may prescribe for low rent housing and nursing home accommodations for persons of low income as defined by law, or for the clearance, replanning, reconstruction and rehabilitation of substandard and insanitary areas, or for both such purposes, and for recreational and other facilities incidental or appurtenant thereto.
16 The record supports the conclusion that the State fails to provide a significant number of children even the opportunity to learn these rudimentary skills.
17 Defendant Governor Pataki has publicly declared: I totally disagree with the concept that an eighth grade education is adequate, and it will never be the policy of this state so long as I am governor of this state (Shaila K. Dewan, Pataki Attacks June Ruling that 8th-Grade Education is Enough, NY Times, Sept. 13, 2002, at B6, col. 1.).
Thomas Sobol, who served as Commissioner of Education from 1987 to
1995, testified that a high school diploma is the lin qua [sic] franca of our
society educationally. Dr. Levin, educational economist at Columbia
University's Teachers College, testified that it is the conventional wisdom
that [high school] dropouts are increasingly disadvantaged in the labor market
relative to high school graduates. The reason for this is that the labor
market is changing in terms of the demand for skills that we have moved very
heavily towards intellectual work, new forms of production and also new forms
of work organization that require much more skill than they have in the past.
Dr. Levin concluded that for every dollar spent to ensure that students
graduate from high school, there's a return of about six to
$7 for society as
a whole, just in earnings alone, and that the revenues that are generated are
about twice that of the costs. As to high school dropouts who obtain a
General Equivalency Diploma (GED), Dr. Levin testified that the job prospects
and lifetime earnings of the GED certificates is [sic] considerably less than
that of the high school graduate. In fact, it is equal or close to that of
high school dropouts. The military, which originated the idea, no longer
considers a GED the equivalent of a high school diploma. In addition, the
four-year college graduation rate of GED holders is about two percent.
19 Dr. Sobol testified that preparation for the world of work in this
case for sustaining competitive employment has very long been a purpose of the
of the United States. * * * [T]he skills that students need in
today's world to sustain competitive employment vastly outstrip the level of
skill and knowledge that was generally requisite even as short a time as a
generation or two ago. Children in the 21st century need to understand
complex communications technology and be able to use it effectively. They
will have to solve problems on the workforce in a changing scene. They will
have to apply their knowledge to increasingly new situations. They are
unlikely to learn one craft well and practice it for their entire lives but to
move about as we see more and more.
Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, a Professor at Stanford University and
Executive Director of the National Commission on Teaching and America's
Future, testified that preparing students for employment has been part of the
rationale for public education since the beginning of public education in this
country. She also testified that the findings of abundant research
area is that students today need much higher levels of technical skills and
knowledge than they did in the past; that that set of skills includes the
ability to manage and comprehend complex text and information to manage
resources. About 90 percent of the jobs that are in the economy today * * *
are jobs that require at least a high school education and a level of
technical skill in managing technology, text, and various kinds of content
specific competencies that we used to expect of only about 50 percent of the
employees in 1950.
Even one of defendants' experts, John Murphy, the President of Education Partners, testified, I would think that a school system has a responsibility to prepare all of its children to compete in this society, yes. He then agreed with the statement that to compete in society means to get a good, productive job.
20 In 1894, there were in total 96 universities and colleges with 23,835 students in New York. There were also in total 437 high schools with 45,036 students (3 Lincoln, Constitutional History of the State of New York, at 549-450). At the national level, only 10 percent of teenagers were enrolled in high school in 1900. Forty years later, the percentage had risen to 70 percent. The figure now is about 95 percent (Diane Ravitch, American Traditions of Education, p. 13, in A Primer on America's Schools, ). In 1960, about 41 percent of adults had a high school diploma. By 1998, that figure was 82 percent. About the same percentage of adults in New York have a high school diploma (Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone ). Education Law § 3505 requires children from age six to 16, with certain exceptions, to attend full time instruction. A person under 21 years old who has not received a high school diploma is entitled to attend for free the public school in his or her district (Education Law § 3202).
21 It is already the official policy of the Regents that an education should prepare children to compete successfully in today's demanding global society. It is also worth noting that a 1996 National Education Summit attended by 44 governors and 44 chief executive officers of major national corporations adopted, on behalf of the President of the United States, the policy statement that the primary purpose of education is to prepare students to flourish in a Democratic society and to work successfully in a global economy (emphasis added).
22 Dr. Sobol initiated a 13-year quest to determine the skills that a sound basic education should provide. Dr. Sobol spearheaded the creation of seven curriculum committees, each in key areas of the school curriculum composed of experts from just about every field. The Learning Standards are the work product of these committees. According to Dr. Sobol, the Learning Standards operationalize the conditions that would lead to a sound basic education. The Learning Standards were not entirely completed during Dr. Sobol's tenure, and the work was continued by his successor, Dr. Richard Mills. According to Commissioner Mills, the Learning Standards seek to ensure that
all students in New York are prepared
to be citizens, to, in other words, be able to vote
and know what they are voting on and carry the
other burdens of the citizenship, serve on juries
and do all the other things that citizens must do;
to prepare them for work, have a choice for work,
to be competent in that work, to be able to grow in
that work as work changes and to be competent as
individuals * * *.
23 The Learning Standards are relatively numerous and lengthy, but to get a general sense of what they require, the first standard for English Language Arts states as follows:
Language for Information and Understanding * * *. Students will
listen, speak, read and write for information and understanding.
As listeners and readers, students will collect data, facts and
ideas; discover relationships, concepts and generalizations; and
use knowledge generated from oral, written, and electronically
produced texts. As speakers and writers, they will use oral and
written language that follows the accepted conventions of the
English language to acquire, interpret, apply and transmit
[T]he math Regents c
ompetency test is only arithmetic; and while
some people may think that's enough, you can't get into an
apprenticeship program without algebra; you certainly can't do
college level work; you can't understand technology; you can't
even deal with the daily newspaper without something more than
arithmetic. So it is not minimal_-it is not minimally
25 The Task Force also found that [r]ecent decades have seen a restructuring of the City's economy from one based on manufacturing to one driven by services. Finance, insurance, and real estate dominate the market place and account for disproportionate shares of income. Along with medical services, business services, and communications and entertainment, these are the prime sources of good jobs. Advanced technology counts for an increasing share of the City's employment * * * Each of these sectors of job growth is relentlessly competitive, requiring a high-level of academic skills for success. * * * with certain exceptions such as tourism, traditional jobs requiring less education are declining. Jobs in manufacturing have been dropping at about the same rate as jobs in services have been increasing. * * * Opportunities for less-educated workers are likely to keep declining, while continued increases in the services sector will bring more good jobs to people with computer skills who are literate, can write, and are well-grounded in the science and mathematics.
26 The State attempted to ensure that the City's contribution to education remains stable despite changes in the economy by enacting a law commonly known as the Stavisky-Goodman Act (Educ. L. § 257). According to Dr. Berne, the law has not been effective at ensuring that contributions from the City remain stable because it applies to all funds in the New York City budget received from local taxes, the State and the Federal government, and because it is not clear who can invoke it. A recent law enacted in 2000 makes clear that it applies only to the City's own budget (chapter 91, section 5; Education Law § 2567 [5-a]).
27 This view was reiterated by Harold Levy, former member of the Regents and former Chancellor of the New York City Board of Education.
28 A 1996 report by the then State Comptroller H. Carl McCall entitled An
Agenda for Equitable and Cost-Effective School Finance Reform, concluded as
follows: The current day complexity and convoluted nature of the aid system
is the result of many years of manipulation of the formulas through the budget
process. Each year the legislative leadership and the executive agree on some
broad parameters for school aid, such as how much the year-to-year increase
will be and on how, overall, the aid will be distributed among regions. The
formulas and grant programs are then altered by technicians to achieve a
desired result. Although the formulas were originally intended to reflect
need, each year's manipulation is in truth most heavily driven by a
politically determined distribution requirement. The focus is always on a
single year's aid distribution rather than conceptual concerns about need and
how aid should be provided. The cumulative result of this annual patchwork is
therefore quite naturally a jumble.
30 New York is one of fifteeen states whose constitutions' express terms impose an educational obligation to maintain a system of free public schools, but nothing more ( see William E. Thro, Note, To Render Them Safe: The Analysis of State Constitutional Provisions In Public School Finance Reform Litigation, 75 Va L Rev 1639, 1661-70 & n 109 ). By contrast, nineteen state constitutions mandate a system of public schools meeting an articulated standard of quality such as "thorough and efficient"; eight state constitutions contain a stronger and more specific educational mandate and purposive preambles; and seven state constitutions impose the greatest obligation on the state legislature by providing that education is "fundamental," "primary" or "paramount" ( see id.; see also William E. Thro, School Finance Reform: A New Approach to State Constitutional Analysis in School Finance Litigation, 14 J L & Politics 525 [Summer 1998]).
31 The parties identified and deposed 30 expert witnesses prior to the trial, which featured 72 witnesses and consumed 111 court days over a seven-month period.
32 In assessing the role of expert testimony at the trial in this case, one commentator has remarked that "[i]n many cases, the academic literature is divided on an issue, so the Court took one side" (Clive R. Belfield & Henry M. Levin, The Economics of Education on Judgment Day, J of Educ Fin, 28 [Fall 2002]at 183- 206.) Of course, trial courts do this all the time, but usually not when determining what a constitutional standard means or whether it has been violated.
33 These risks were recognized at the time by Judge Levine, who concurred in CFE I, and by Judge Simons, who dissented. Judge Levine carefully tracked the trial and intermediate appellate progress of Levittown. He noted that both lower courts had found violations of the Education Article by applying constitutional standards remarkably similar to the template announced by the majority in CFE I, yet in Levittown we held as a matter of law that plaintiffs and intervenors had not established a constitutional violation. Judge Levine worried that the majority's interpretation of the Education Article might be read to reject Levittown so as to invite and inevitably * * * entail the subjective, unverifiable educational policymaking by Judges, unreviewable on any principled basis ( CFE I, 86 NY2d at 332). Judge Simons harbored no doubt that the majority had strayed from Levittown, observing that "[o]f course, the majority may interpret the State Constitution, or our Levittown decision, as mandating a level of student performance and authorizing judicial determination of the curriculum and facilities and State funding necessary to achieve that level if it chooses, but I believe it unwise to do so * * * " ( id. at 341).
34 In Paynter v State of New York (decided today), we observe
that "[t]he causes of academic failure may be manifold, including
such factors as the lack of family supports and health care. But
if the State truly puts adequate resources into the classroom ,
it satisfies its constitutional promise under the Education
Article, even though student performance remains substandard"
(majority opn at 8 [emphasis supplied]). If "outputs" are
irrelevant as long as funding is adequate, it seems inconsistent
for the majority here to look to the same outputs to measure
whether the "sound basic education" standard has been met in the
36 This stands in marked contrast to Kentucky, the state always cited as the success story for school finance reform litigation (see Rose v Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 SW2d 186 [Ky 1989]). In the 1980's Kentucky ranked forty-eighth among the states in per pupil and per capita expenditures on public schools ( see Molly A. Hunter, All Eyes Forward: Public Engagement and Educational Reform in Kentucky, 28 J L & Educ 485 [Oct. 1999]). In the 1980's Kentucky also was fiftieth among the states in adult literacy and adults with high school diplomas, [and] forty-ninth in college-going rate, * * *. [I]n the Appalachian counties over 48% of the population was functionally illiterate ( id. at 486). The Kentucky Supreme Court in Rose declared the state's entire statutory framework for the common schools unconstitutional; that is, for example, statutes or regulations bearing on teacher certification as well as those bearing on finance.
37 For this reason as well as the sheer relative size of the New York City school district, I view the majority's forbearance from a Statewide remedy, which Judge Smith would straightforwardly adopt, as illusory in practical effect as is the majority's standard to define a sound basic education.
38 Paynter is instructive on the point of whether increased funding is a panacea for poor educational outcomes. According to the Paynter plaintiffs at oral argument, the Rochester City School District has had the highest paid teachers in the State since 1997, all of whom are certified, as well as new buildings and books, yet graduates only 26% of its students. Thus the Paynter plaintiffs claimed no funding inadequacy. The Rochester City School District, however, filed an amicus curiae brief on this appeal, stating that it "continues to suffer from grossly inadequate State and local funding" (brief, p 16).
39 For example, as part of a comprehensive effort to improve special education, "long * * * the source of the most intractable and costly of the city's education ills," the Chancellor plans to streamline the screening process by eliminating an additional review at the school district level, which would free up 960 educational evaluators for teaching at least half-time (David M. Herszenhorn, Bloomberg and Klein Have Plan to Improve Special Education, NY Times, Apr. 4, 2003, at D7). The New York City public school system devotes at least a quarter of its budget to special education.
40 This type of litigation does not appear on a "blank slate" in terms of our national experience ( see, e.g., Robinson v Cahill, 62 NJ 473, 303 A2d 273 ; Robinson II, 63 NJ 196, 306 A2d 65 ; Robinson III, 67 NJ 35, 335 A2d 6 1975]; Robinson IV, 69 NJ 133, 351 A2d 713 ; Robinson V, 69 NJ 449, 355 A2d 129 ; Robinson VI, 70 NJ 155, 358 A2d 457 modified 70 NJ 464, and dissolved 70 NJ 464, 360 A2d 400 1976]; Abbott v Burke, 100 NJ 269, 495 A2d 376 ; Abbott II, 119 NJ 287, 575 A2d 359 ; Abbott III, 136 NJ 444, 643 A2d 575 ; Abbott IV, 149 NJ 145, 693 A2d 417 ; Abbott V, 153 NJ 480, 710 A2d 450 ; Abbott VI, 163 NJ 95, 748 A2d 82 clarified by Abbott VII, 164 NJ 84, 751 A2d 1032 ; Abbott VIII, 170 NJ 537, 790 A2d 842 ; Abbott IX, 172 NJ 294, 798 A2d 602 ; DeRolph v State, 78 Ohio St 3 193, 677 NE2d 733 ; DeRolph II, 89 Ohio St 3 1, 728 NE2d 993 ; DeRolph III, 93 Ohio St 3 309, 754 NE2d 1184 ; DeRolph IV, 97 Ohio St 3 434, 780 NE2d 529 ; DeRolph V, 2003 Ohio 2476 ).