2 in CFE School Finance Case —Governor’s
Assemblyman Steven Sanders
was pleased, as Chairman of the Assembly Committee on Education,
to submit an amicus brief on September 28 to the Appellate Division-First
Department opposing defendant-Governor Pataki’s appeal in the
Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, where the court below found the
State’s system of school financing unconstitutional
and grossly inadequate for the City and other
Much of the defendant’s argument in this appeal revolves around
a contention that a “sound basic education” should be construed
in the most minimal way and that resources to provide this “sound
basic education” are currently adequate in the New York City school
It is a disgrace for Governor Pataki to argue that our State constitutional
requirement that a public school system must provide a sound basic
education is “minimal,” and to further argue that courts “may
not find a denial of an opportunity for a sound basic education”
unless that education is “so debilitating that it is tantamount
to no education at all . . .”
The implication of the Pataki argument is that New York State
is merely obligated to support and maintain the public school
system at the level of educational functioning that prevailed
in 1894, when the constitutional provision was adopted.
In my brief, I sharply rebuked the Governor’s contention that
the Regents’ standards are “aspirational”—in other words, ethereal
and disconnected from what students need to know for
college and careers.
True, I have taken issue with aspects of the Regents’ standards,
including the one-size-fits-all-approach and what I believe is
an overzealous reliance on standardized testing and a climate
where high standards are being confused with high-stakes tests.
This notwithstanding, what I argued is the fact that the standards
were promulgated by the Regents as part of their constitutional
duties, which means that if students cannot pass all five Regents—in
English, math, global history, United States history and science—then
they are denied a high school diploma.
The consequences of not receiving a high school diploma, I argued,
clearly are catastrophic; a youngster without this accreditation
is unable to matriculate in a college, is barred from applying
for many civil service jobs, may not serve in the United States
armed services and faces severely limited private sector employment
It is inconceivable that anyone in the State of New York could
consider the “sound basic education” to which students are entitled
to be at a level lower than the level the State now requires for
students to graduate from high school.
I urged the Court to acknowledge that the current Regents’ standards
“provide a concrete expression of the type and level of skills
needed for a sound basic education in the 21st century, and that
students therefore are entitled to the resources necessary to
have a reasonable opportunity to meet them.
This does not necessarily mean that these standards are synonymous
with the constitutional definition, and it does not mean that
the constitutional right is defined by whatever the Regents’ standards
in fact are.
Nevertheless, since the Regents’ standards—imperfect as they may
be—do constitute the official educational policy of the State
of New York at this time, and since they relate to the set of
knowledge and skills comporting with the sound basic education
mandate, then having the resources for children to meet these
standards is fundamental.
Finally, I argued that the remedy ordered by the trial court appropriately
articulates guidelines that would greatly aid the legislative
process without unduly intruding upon the proper prerogatives
of the Legislature. This entails that the State determine, to
the maximum extent possible, the actual costs of providing a sound
basic education in districts around the state and reform the finance
system to ensure that every school district has the resources
necessary for providing the opportunity for a sound basic education
for every child in every district.
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