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Maisto v. State

Supreme Court, Albany County

September 19, 2016

Larry J. Maisto and Mary Frances Maisto, et al., Plaintiffs,
State of New York, Defendant.

          NIXON PEABODY LLP Attorneys for Plaintiffs (William Reynolds, Esq., of Counsel)

          WHITE & CASE LLP Attorneys for Plaintiffs (Gregory G. Little, Esq., Joshua B. Elmore, Esq., and Laura J. Garr, Esq., of Counsel)

          EDUCATION LAW CENTER Attorneys for Plaintiffs (David G. Sciarra, Esq., and Wendy Lecker, Esq., of Counsel)

          NEW YORK STATE UNITED TEACHERS Attorneys for Plaintiffs (Megan M. Mercy, Esq., of Counsel)

          HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN Attorney General of the State of New York Attorney for Defendant (Richard Lombardo, Esq., David Fruchter, Esq., and Melissa Latino, Esq., of Counsel)

          STINSON, LEONARD, STREET LLP Attorneys for Defendant (John Munich, Esq., and Jamie L. Boyer, Esq., of Counsel)

          HON. KIMBERLY A. O'CONNOR Acting Supreme Court Justice

         This action by representatives of schoolchildren from eight small city school districts in New York State follows the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ("CFE") litigation involving the New York City schools, which spanned approximately twelve years, and resulted in a judicial determination that the State of New York ("State") was violating the constitutional rights of New York City's schoolchildren (see Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of New York, 86 N.Y.2d 307');">86 N.Y.2d 307 [1995][" CFE I "]; Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of New York, 100 N.Y.2d 893');">100 N.Y.2d 893 [2003][" CFE II "]; Campaign for Fiscal Equity v State of New York, 8 N.Y.3d 14');">8 N.Y.3d 14 [2006][" CFE III "]). The cornerstone of the determination in the CFE case was that State education funding to New York City schools was so inadequate that it deprived New York City schoolchildren of their constitutionally-mandated opportunity for a sound basic education (see CFE II, 100 N.Y.2d at 908-919). The plaintiffs here have made similar claims.

         Development of Foundation Aid Post-CFE

         In 2007, in response to the judicial determination in CFE that the State's funding mechanism for the New York City schools was constitutionally inadequate, the executive and legislative branches of New York State government reformed the method of determining school aid for all school districts in the State of New York. This reform wholly changed the way school funding was calculated, creating a new funding formula called "Foundation Aid." Foundation Aid is calculated on a per student basis, as follows:

[S]tart with a foundation amount, which is a single number.... [M]ultiply that by a district specific pupil needs index and then... multiply that number by a district specific regional cost index, which yields... a total adjusted foundation amount from which... an expected minimum local contribution [is subtracted]. The difference of that subtraction yields... a State aid per pupil, which is the foundation aid per pupil amount (tr at 4031).

         The foundation amount is derived from the "Successful Schools Model." Essentially, the New York State Department of Education looks at the data from school districts that meet certain achievement criteria, and then the per pupil spending in those districts is analyzed. Next, a subset of the lower-half of those spending districts is created, [1] and the average per pupil spending within that subset is calculated. That amount is the foundation amount, which is updated every three years.

         This fundamental change in the way school aid is calculated in New York State was the subject of years of analysis and negotiation by and between the Legislature and the Executive. It was enacted in 2007 by the Legislature, and was signed into law by the Governor as a part of the State budget. The new law created a plan to implement an increase of $5.5 billion in school aid for the entire State over a period of four years.

         Furthermore, the State engaged in non-fiscal reforms following the CFE case that were designed to improve the overall performance of the schools through accountability measures and raising standards, as well as teacher performance evaluation. During this time period, the Federal funding known as "Race to the Top" was being implemented, along with increased standards known as "Common Core." All witnesses at trial noted the negative impact that these significant changes had on student performance, both statewide and nationwide. The increase in standards and substantial changes in standardized testing resulted in significant decreases in student performance across the State, impacting the eight school districts and negatively influencing the students' performance.

         In the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 State budgets, Foundation Aid was enacted and implemented as originally planned. However, the enacted State budget in 2009-2010 included a freeze in the amount of Foundation Aid at the 2008-2009 level. The 2008-2009 budget also reduced the amount of school aid through a mechanism called a "Deficit Reduction Assessment." [2] Beginning in 2010-2011, the enacted State budget again included the Foundation Aid freeze, as well as a Gap Elimination Adjustment ("GEA"), which reduced the school aid amount for each district. Foundation Aid began to be phased in again in the 2012-2013 State budget, and the GEA has been reduced or rolled back piecemeal over several recent budget years.

         Plaintiffs' Case - The Trial

         It is against this backdrop that plaintiffs, representatives of children in eight small city school districts [3] in the State of New York, have brought this action against the State for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the schoolchildren in these school districts are being deprived of the opportunity for a sound basic education, required by Article XI, § 1 of the New York State Constitution, based upon the reduction in State education funding noted above. The trial of this matter took place over the course of approximately two months, commencing on January 21, 2015 and concluding on March 12, 2015. The Court has had a full opportunity to consider the evidence presented with respect to the issues in the case, including testimony from many witnesses, as well as countless exhibits and the voluminous pleadings.

         The Court has also reviewed the parties' post-trial submissions, including, among other things, a Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Joint Statement"), dated October 28, 2015, in which they stipulated to the following categories of information presented at the trial for each of the school districts: enrollments, demographics, staffing counts/ratios, class sizes, per pupil expenditures, graduation rates, dropout and suspension rates, and test scores. The Court adopts these stipulated facts and incorporates the Joint Statement in its entirety by reference herein. There were numerous stipulations during the course of the trial that are also recognized by this Court, and are incorporated into this Decision and Order.

         The amount of State aid received by each of the eight school districts for each year [4] was not the subject of a stipulation. However, based upon the presentation of this issue in the parties' post-trial submissions, there is no disagreement regarding the amount of State aid provided, or the amount of the GEA. In fact, it appears as though the only reason these numbers were not the subject of a stipulation was the way the numbers were described and presented, and the disagreement about the plaintiff's characterization regarding a "gap" in the State aid. Nevertheless, the actual numbers are undisputed.

         The common thread running through the eight school districts is one of high-need, based upon the demographics of most of the children in the districts. It is undisputed that many, and often a majority, of children in these districts are economically disadvantaged, have disabilities, and/or have limited English proficiency. The parties generally agree that children with higher needs often require programs to address the problems that their situations and circumstances create. The performance of the children in these school districts is undeniably inadequate. It is the import of this ...

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