SCHOOLS - DUE PROCESS - FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT - CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - PROCEDURE
NEW YORK'S PUBLIC SCHOOL FINANCING SYSTEM IS SUBJECT TO CHALLENGE UNDER
THE EDUCATION ARTICLE OF THE STATE CONSTITUTION AND FEDERAL TITLE VI IMPLEMENTING
] | [ISSUE & DISPOSITION
| [AUTHORITIES CITED
] | [COMMENTARY
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a not-for-profit corporation of concerned
citizens, 14 of New York's 32 school districts, and several students and
their parents brought an action challenging the constitutionality of the
state's public school financing. Three defendants (the State of New York,
the Senate Majority Leader, and the Assembly Minority Leader) brought a
motion to dismiss on the grounds that some of the plaintiffs could not
bring this type of action and that the complaint failed to state a cause
of action. The supreme court granted defendant's motion to dismiss in relation
to the plaintiff school districts. The court also dismissed the remaining
plaintiffs' equal protection and Title VI claims, but ruled that these
remaining plaintiffs had a valid cause of action under the Education Article
and Title VI's implementing regulations. The Appellate Division modified
the decision and granted the defendant's motion to dismiss all claims.
According to the Appellate Division, the plaintiffs' claims had been fully
tried and determined by the court in Levittown
, and the state had
not violated Title VI implementing regulations. The Court of Appeals reversed
and held that the non-school district plaintiffs had a valid cause of action
under the Education Article and under the implementing regulations of Title
Whether a challenge to the New York State's public school financing system
gives rise to a cause of action under (1) the Education Article of the
State Constitution, (2) the equal protection clauses of the State and Federal
Constitutions, or (3) Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its
A split court concluded that non-school board plaintiffs plead a sustainable
claim under the Education Article of the State Constitution, and a unanimous
court found a valid claim under Title VI's implementing regulations. All
other complaints were dismissed.
Levittown Union Free Sch. Dist. v. Nyquist, 57 N.Y.2d 27 (N.Y. 1982).
Kadrmas v. Dickinson Pub. Schs., 487 U.S. 450 (1988).
Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287 (1985).
Guardians Assoc. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of City of New York, 463 U.S. 582
Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, reh'g denied, 458 U.S. 1131 (1982).
San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973).
Georgia State Conference of Branches of NAACP v. Georgia, 775 F.2d 1403
(11th Cir. 1985).
Groves v. Alabama State Bd. of Educ., 776 F. Supp. 1518 (M.D. Ala. 1991).
OTHER SOURCES CITED:
1. New York Education Article
The court first addressed whether the plaintiffs plead a viable cause
of action under the Education
Article of the New York State Constitution. The court reinstated a
cause of action under the Educational
Article, holding that the plaintiff's theory was different from that
rejected in Board of Educ. Levittown Union Free Sch. Dist. v. Nyquist,
57 N.Y.2d 27 (N.Y. 1982). The Court interpreted Levittown as holding that
Article established a constitutional floor of minimally acceptable
educational standards, but did not ensure that all educational offerings
would be equal. The non-school board plaintiffs in the instant case did
not claim that the educational offerings were not equal, but rather, that
they fell below the Constitution's minimum standards. Based upon the procedural
posture of the case, the Court did not address whether the educational
offerings met the minimum standards; however, it set forth guidelines for
the trial court to consider, such as whether the educational offerings
provide the opportunity to acquire basic literacy skills necessary to enable
the students to vote and serve as jurors.
B. Levine, J., concurring
Judge Levine concurred separately, agreeing with the majority's holding
concerning a cause of action under the Education
Article, but disagreeing with the majority's interpretation of the
scope of the Education
Article. Based on the history of Levittown and the Education
Article, Judge Levine concluded that the majority had departed from
the reasoning in Levittown by articulating a standard to determine
whether educational offerings meet the state constitution's minimum requirements
that was objectively unverifiable and less precise.
C. Simons, J., dissenting in part
Judge Simons disagreed with the majority's interpretation of the Education
Article as having a qualitative component. According to Judge Simons,
the State's duty is fulfilled if it creates and supports a structure for
a statewide system of schools in which children can receive an education.
The state constitution does not guarantee minimum educational standards
that are to be judicially determined, but rather, leaves it to the other
branches of government to set forth any minimum standards. Ultimately,
a cause of action under the Education
Article only arises when state aid to education can be shown to be
2. Equal Protection Claims
In considering plaintiffs' equal protection claim under the state
constitutions, the Court of Appeals concluded that the disparities in educational
funding were rationally related to the legitimate state interest of preservation
and promotion of local control of education. The court reached this result
in the face of a claim based on the Supreme Court's decision in Plyler
, 457 U.S. 202, reh'g denied
, 458 U.S. 1131 (1982), that
intermediate level scrutiny should apply. The Court of Appeals noted that
the Supreme Court had limited Plyler's holding in Kadrmas v. Dickinson
, 487 U.S. 450 (1988), to the unique circumstances of that
case, i.e., that the children of illegal aliens were excluded entirely
from Texas' educational system. The Court of Appeals reaffirmed its conclusion
, 57 N.Y.2d at 27, that education is not a fundamental
right under the United
, as announced in San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist.
, 411 U.S. 1 (1973), nor under New
. Thus, the Court of Appeals decision on plaintiff's
equal protection claim represents conformance to settled federal and state
3. Title VI Claim
A. Title VI
The plaintiffs in this action claimed that the state public education
system violated Title VI and Title VI's implementing regulations. The court
noted that Title VI, 42
U.S.C. §§ 2000d-2000d(6) prohibits discrimination on the
basis of race or national origin in programs receiving federal financial
The standard that the New York Court of Appeals set out for plaintiffs
to demonstrate a violation of Title VI is taken from the Supreme Court's
ruling in Guardians Assoc. v. Civil Serv. Comm'n of City of New York,
463 U.S. 582 (1983). Under Guardians, to succeed on a Title VI claim,
plaintiffs must show intentional discrimination. Although the Supreme Court
ruled more specifically in Guardians, that discriminatory intent
is required only "for private remedies for Title VI violations," id.
at 584, the complaint in this case did not demonstrate intentional discrimination,
and as a result the Court dismissed plaintiff's Title VI claim.
B. Title VI's Implementing Regulations
The appellate court cited to 34
CFR § 100.3[b][i], Title VI's implementing regulations, which
provide that recipients of federal funding may not utilize criteria or
methods of administration which subject individuals to discrimination.
In addition, the court cited to Alexander v. Choate, 469 U.S. 287,
293-94 (1985), for the disparate impact standard. The court noted that
"Federal courts have consistently held that the evidentiary standards developed
under Title VII govern Title VI cases as well."
The evidentiary standard places the initial burden on the plaintiff
to "show by a preponderance of the evidence that a facially neutral practice
has a racially disproportionate effect, whereupon the burden shifts to
the defendant to prove a substantial legitimate justification for its practice.
The plaintiff then may ultimately prevail by proffering an equally effective
alternative practice which results in less racial disproportionality or
proof that the legitimate practices are a pretext for discrimination."
Georgia State Conference of Branches of NAACP v. Georgia, 775 F.2d
1403, 1417 (11th Cir. 1985).
Applying these standards, the court concluded that plaintiffs stated
a cause of action under Title VI's implementing regulations. "Plaintiffs
support their allegations statistically, pointing to the disparity between
the total and per capita education aid distributed to the city's predominantly
minority student population as opposed to the amount distributed to the
State's non-minority students." Because the defendants did not state a
justification for the existing practice, the court held that the action
under Title VI's implementing regulations should be reinstated. Judges
Levine, concurring, and Simons and Smith, dissenting, join the majority
with respect to the Title VI claim.
4. Survey of Law in Other Jurisdictions
Since 1980, the highest courts in over half the states have ruled on direct
challenges to the financing schemes of their state's public school systems
(see, for example, McDuffy v. Secretary of Executive Office of Educ.,
615 N.E.2d 516 (Mass.1993); Abbott v. Burke, 575 A.2d 359 (N.J. 1990);
Serrano v. Priest
, 226 Cal.Rptr. 584 (Cal. Ct. App. 1986)). The clear
majority of the cases have seen the approval of the state's financing system
under rational basis scrutiny, while only a handful of courts have ruled
that education is a fundamental right requiring heightened judicial scrutiny.
Moreover, no court has prohibited a local governmental body from acting
to raise its schools above some minimum level of adequate educational opportunity.
Thus, as long as the state has provided some constitutionally required
floor, counties, cities, and school districts are free to add their resources
to provide whatever educational opportunities they deem necessary.
Scott M. Davies, 97
Robert D. Grauer, 96
H. Marlow Green, 97
Edward M. Lilly, 96
Marc E. Mangum, 97
If you have views about the Court's decision or this LII commentary on
it that you would like to share, the LII editors would be pleased to hear
from you via an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org