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TC for the Plaintiffs: Court Declares State Deprives City Students 'A Sound Basic Education' - Annual Report 2001


Michael A. Rebell

Henry Levin

Tom Sobol


TC for the Plaintiffs: Court Declares State Deprives City Students "A Sound Basic Education"

On January 10, a New York State judge, Leland DeGrasse of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, declared the state's method of financing public schools illegal, saying it deprives New York City students a "sound, basic education" guaranteed by the State Constitution.

The plaintiff, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE)-a coalition of advocacy groups representing school children, filed the lawsuit that New York State's funding system denied hundreds of thousands of New York City school children an adequate education, which "is a constitutional wrong."

The judge's ruling, which capped a seven-year lawsuit; signaled the need to increase the budget for New York City's schools by $1 billion to $2 billion a year, in addition to the current $12 billion in city, state and federal aid.

While the landmark decision was the work of the CFE and its lawyers, there is a TC connection to the suit, both in the leadership of the CFE and two professors who testified for the plaintiffs, Tom Sobol and Henry Levin.

Michael A. Rebell, the Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) is Adjunct Professor of Education in the Department of Education and Leadership with a joint appointment to Columbia Law. Rebell, who teaches educational policy and the law, credits the statewide Public Engagement Process (PEP) with making a major difference in winning the decision.

"This public input," Rebell added, "strongly influenced what we presented at the trial. So what you have here is a very unique process where citizen input was conveyed to us and we conveyed it to Judge DeGrasse and he used much of it in his proposed order."

Tom Sobol, Christian A. Johnson Outstanding Professor of Educational Practice is the former New York Commissioner of Education and named as defendant in the original suit by CFE in 1995. Sobol spoke about the dilemma he faced as Commissioner. After talking to the Board of Regents, he was able to realign himself in the suit to associate with the plaintiffs by changing his status to amicus curiae. That gave him the opportunity to give the plaintiffs access to whatever information he had access to.

Sobol's testimony on the causal link between inadequate school facilities and student outcome, was included in Judge Degrasse's 180-page decision.

Henry M. Levin, William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education, described in his deposition the alarming problem of high school drop-outs in New York City, noting that in the mid-1990s, the city's drop-out rate was three times the national average.

Levin outlined what the enormous drop-out population means to the social fabric of the city-including lower tax revenues, welfare payments and crime-and estimated that society would receive a return of $6 for every additional dollar in educating at-risk children.

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