"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Thursday, August 24, 2006,8:33 AM
Court Rules That NYC Children Are Entitled To No More Than 8th Or 9th Grade Education
Donna Lamb
Global Black News

It's enough to make you sick: in a 4-to-1 decision, a panel of judges from the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that as far as the State Constitution is concerned, the guarantee of "a sound basic education" requires that public schools provide children with nothing more than "a minimally adequate educational opportunity"--which they reckon falls somewhere between the 8th and 9th grade!

This decision overturned last year's landmark ruling by Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse, who--after carefully analyzing the evidence put before him during a 7-month trial--had stated that Albany's formula for funding public schools had gypped New York City students for decades, and had violated their constitutional right to a sound education. He ordered the state to vastly increase funding to NYC schools forthwith.

But Gov. Pataki--who's spent more than $11 million fighting the lawsuit--didn't like that decision and appealed it. And what do you know--though former Gov. Mario Cuomo named half of the 14 appellate judges, none of them ended up on this case. Instead, 4 of the 5 appellate judges appointed by Pataki heard the case. And you can be sure: he likes their ruling much better.


About ten years ago, Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. (CFE), a coalition of advocacy groups, filed a lawsuit against New York State on behalf of New York City schoolchildren. It charged that the State unfairly shortchanged the City's schools.

One of the main shakers and movers in the case was the then-President of Community Board 6--now City Councilman--Robert Jackson. He became the lead plaintiff in the suit.

In 1995, CFE won a major victory when New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, decided that the State Constitution requires that the state offer all children the opportunity for a "sound basic education." They also stated that the exact meaning of this standard could only be evaluated and resolved after development of a factual record.

On January 10, 2001, Justice Leland DeGrasse, the trial court judge, issued a detailed decision carefully evaluating the evidence presented during the trial and found that the current state school funding system was unconstitutional. All fair-minded people who really care about the predominantly Brown and Black children in the New York School System were jubilant.


But then, on June 25, 2002, the Appellate Division, First Department of the State Supreme Court, reversed Justice DeGrasse's decision. The majority decision, written by Justice Alfred Lerner and joined by Justices John Buckley and Joseph Sullivan, concluded that the plaintiffs had not proven that the education provided by the New York City schools fell below the minimal level of "a sound basic education" or that the state funding system was the cause of insufficiencies in the City's schools.

Another Justice, Peter Tom, wrote a separate opinion concurring with this one, but expressing concern that there is a growing educational crisis. His opinion left the door open to a future finding that the state funding system violates the Constitution.

Only Justice David Saxe wrote a strong dissenting opinion castigating the court majority for a decision which logically means that the state has no obligation to provide a high school education. He also emphasized that the current system fails to provide the resources that at?risk children need in order to have an opportunity to succeed.


In his decision, Justice DeGrasse followed the Court of Appeals' directive to fill in the contours of the definition of a "sound basic education." He interpreted the statement that students should be able to "function productively" as requiring that schools offer students the chance to obtain employment that would provide a living wage. He found, therefore, that schools should be required to offer students the opportunity to learn the type of math, science, and computer skills that are often required in today's society for competitive employment. He took the Court of Appeals' directive regarding civic participation as requiring that students have skills that would permit them to understand the kind of complex issues they might be asked to evaluate as voters or jurors, such as tax policy, global warming, or DNA evidence.

In his decision, Justice Lerner agreed with Justice DeGrasse that "sound basic education" consists of the skills necessary to obtain employment and to competently discharge one's civic responsibilities. However, he interpreted these things as requiring a much lower level of skills. He believes that the evidence presented in the trial, "established that the skills required to enable a person to obtain employment, vote, and serve on a jury, are imparted between grades 8 and 9." He does admit that so little education might only enable a person to acquire low-paying service jobs, but, he states, "Society needs workers at all levels of jobs, the majority of which may very well be low-level."


"Let's get ready to rumble," said Councilman Robert Jackson, when he heard the Appellate Court decision. "We are going to fight tooth and nail to ensure that our children receive a quality education."

He went on to say: "I am shocked and angered that, in the year 2002, these judges can say that an 8th grade education is adequate. How will our children compete in the global economy? How will they have a decent life and keep their own families out of poverty if we educate them only enough to hold jobs in factories that don't exist anymore?! I challenge Gov. Pataki and the Appellate Division to send their children or grandchildren to school only until the 8th grade and then encourage them to take minimum wage jobs. We all know that this will never happen. Yet they would condemn our children and our families to this fate!"

Jackson laid bare Gov. Pataki's shenanigans as he said, "In his comments released after the Court rendered its decision, the Governor tried to distract us from the truth: he claims to have given NYC schools $2 billion over the eight years he has been in office, as if to say that money is not really the problem. But, if you do the math, in a school system serving 1.1 million students, you find that this amounts to only $227.00 per student per year. This is chump change!

"The Independent Budget Office," Jackson continued, "has done an analysis of what it would cost to bring education allotments in NYC up to par with what they are in the highest performing districts in the state. That amount, adjusted for local differences in costs, is $3.3 billion per year!"

In summing it all up, Jackson said, "This decision is a disgrace by anyone's standards and we are preparing for an appeal. We will continue to struggle on behalf of the children and families of New York City and all of New York State--for good schools, for a sound basic education. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will recognize the inherent value of our children and overturn the decision of the Appellate Division."
posted by R J Noriega
Permalink ¤
Oriental Trading Company