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Abstract

On March 16, 2005, in what appeared to be a victory for the children of New York City, the Court of Appeals of New York, applying the Education Article, upheld a lower court decision and recommendation, by a panel of judicially appointed Special Referees, holding that the New York State school funding system failed to provide New York City children with a “sound basic education.” The Court of Appeals mandated that the State Legislature phase in $5.6 billion annually, as well as an additional $9.2 billion in a capital fund to reform the City public schools. The opinion, however, failed to address one key question: where will the money come from? Members of the State government, including Governor George Pataki, indicated that New York City should be responsible for forty percent of the bill. Local officials, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, insist that providing a sound basic education is the responsibility of state government, that the State should pay for the entire amount, and that any effort by the City to contribute will result in the loss of other programs that support children, as well as public safety. The only guidance provided by an otherwise activist court was that the City may be responsible for a reasonable portion of education-related expenses and that the State may not overburden the City to the point where it cannot provide the funds. Part I of this Comment will first demonstrate various approaches in narrowing the achievement gap between wealthy and poor students under federal and state constitutional schemes over the past fifty years. Part I will further delineate the relative successes and failures in implementing education finance reform in various states. Lastly, Part I will explore the unique education system in New York City and education finance reform in New York State over the last few decades, focusing on the multiple judicial proceedings in Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State. Part II will detail conflicting opinions on how and by whom a sound basic education for the children of New York City shall be funded under the mandate of Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State. Part II will further explore the argument that the judiciary lacked the authority to delegate $5.6 billion to provide a sound basic education. Part III will show how extreme solutions are unlikely to survive the political process and how the Court of Appeals’ most recent decision in Campaign for Fiscal Equity,Inc. v. State leaves the door open for potentially endless litigation without timely benefit for the children in the New York City Public School System. Part III will also demonstrate how public engagement on where sound basic education funds should come from and additional educational reforms, in addition to increased funding, are needed to ensure that the New York City schools provide constitutionally mandated sound basic education to its students.

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