Court Case Fighting for Small City School Funding Wins a Battle

Small city school districts such as Fulton and Oswego won a round in court recently in a fight with the state over education funding.

The state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, ruled June 26 that a lawsuit brought by the Association of Small City School Districts against the state can proceed. The state, through Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, argued unsuccessfully that the courts had no role in education funding.

“It’s a very big outcome,” said Fulton Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch, who has been watching the case closely. “A big step on a long path.” The suit has been in the courts for years.

Three cases called The Campaign for Fiscal Equity cases ruled that the state has a duty to fund a “sound, basic” education for all students and had not done so. In the last case, a 2006 ruling ordered the state to significantly increase school aid.

The CFE case primarily concerned New York City Schools.

In 2008, the small cities group sued, claiming that the state’s formula for distributing aid was unfair to small-city schools. Rural schools have made the same claim, though they are not part of the lawsuit.

In 2009, the state’s second-highest court found that the schools had proved through data that there are “glaring deficiencies in the current quality of the schools in plaintiffs’ districts” because of the way aid is distributed.

State aid to schools is distributed using a formula so complex it’s believed only a few people understand how it works. Upstate schools have argued that the formula favors districts with large amounts of land wealth, such as those on Long Island and in Westchester County.

This year, supplemental school aid, called “bullet aid”, was distributed to some schools Upstate and not others. The schools that received a portion of the $10 million in bullet aid were all located in districts represented by a Republican member of the State Senate. All of Oswego County’s schools were included.

The small-cities case, called Hussein v. State of New York after one of the parents involved in the suit, is an attempt to force what its backers say is a more even method of distributing aid. It comes against the backdrop of declines in aid for education at a time of sharply rising costs caused by the deep recession.

In a news release, the Association for Small City School Districts cheered the news: “The plaintiff-parents are eager to present evidence to the trial court that their children are not being provided with the basic resources necessary for success and that the resulting poor student outcomes show that these students are being denied basic educational preparation for iife, work, and civic participation.”