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Court Decision Reversed

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Michael A. Rebell

Michael A. Rebell

In February of 2001, Inside TC reported on the successful lawsuit brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE)-a coalition of advocacy groups representing school children-against New York State for inadequate method of financing public schools that deprived New York City students of a "sound, basic education" guaranteed by the State Constitution. Michael A. Rebell, TC Adjunct Professor of Education and the Executive Director of CFE, was an instrumental player in that lawsuit, along with Professors Tom Sobol and Henry M. Levin, who testified for the plaintiffs.

That decision was reversed recently in an intermediate appeals court. The previous court's decision that a "sound, basic education" is defined as one that takes students to a level at which they can vote and serve on a jury was ruled to mean that the state is only obliged to provide students with an eighth-grade education.

"Imagine saying that the State has the obligation to educate people up to the 8th grade level," Sobol noted. "What does that say about State standards?" The State, Sobol added, is in effect saying that while the Board of Regents is setting standards of knowledge that must be met in order to graduate, they are under no obligation to help students reach those standards beyond the 8th grade.

Rebell, however, is optimistic despite the reversal.

"My opinion is that it's a minor bump along the road," Rebell said. "If anything, it's helpful to us legally because they have put the core issue in focus-what is the constitutional standard? The intermediate appeals court held that an 8th grade education is the essence of the constitutional guarantee. The highest court will have to decide if they buy that."

The Court of Appeals determined in 1995 that every child in New York State has the right to a sound, basic education. It sent the case back to the trial court to determine what that education is and whether New York City children are getting it. The Court of Appeals indicated that, at the very least, children need the skills to be voters and jurors. Former TC Professor Linda Darling Hammond gave the main testimony on what qualifies a person to be a juror and voter by looking at documents used by jurors in a real trial and showing what reading and analytical skills are necessary, equating those skills with Regents learning standards.

"We are optimistic because the intermediate appeals court decision is unreasonable on its face," Rebell said. "I can't imagine the Court of Appeals [the highest court] would allow the constitutional standard of New York State for what is an adequate education to be equivalent to 19th Century minimal level skills."

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