Case to Court of Appeals: Pataki Should Settle
Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Court of Appeals will soon hear oral arguments in the landmark
Campaign for School Equity case. Governor Pataki, regrettably,
appealed the decision by Justice DeGrasse, which held that the
State’s school funding formula was both unfair and inadequate
for New York City’s students. Pataki’s appeal prevailed
at the Appellate Division, but, ironically, the Governor recently
changed his tune and suddenly has repudiated the idea that attaining
only an 8th grade education is acceptable.
But that is the opposite of what the State has argued since
the beginning of this litigation, that the “sound basic
education” called for in the State Constitution should
be construed in the most minimal way—the equivalent of
only an 8th grade education.
Now the plaintiffs are appealing to the State’s highest
court, the Court of Appeals, and Pataki has refused to settle
the case. Is this in the interest of our children? Of course
The State, the defendant in the suit, has argued that the drafters
of the Education Clause of the State Constitution had in mind
only the “limited purpose” of continuing in place
“the existing public school system.” The implication
of this position seems to be that the State is obligated to
support and maintain the public school system only at the level
of educational functioning that prevailed in 1894, when this
constitutional provision was adopted.
A sound basic education cannot be less than that required by
the Board of Regents in the form of minimal standards for graduation
from high school. In November of 1997, the Regents defined what
was necessary for a sound basic education by promulgating Regents’
Learning Standards. These standards have been explicitly approved
by the legislative leadership of both parties and by the Governor
and stand as the official policies of the State of New York.
The Regents’ new graduation requirements, enacted together
with the standards, changed the previous two-track diploma system.
Now there is only a Regents’ diploma. To obtain this diploma,
every student must pass Regents exams in English, math, global
history, United States history and science. Failure to pass
all five Regents exams will cause a student to forfeit a high
The consequences of not receiving a high school diploma are
catastrophic. Without this accreditation one is unable to matriculate
in college, barred from applying for many civil service jobs,
may not serve in the U.S. armed services and faces limited private
sector employment opportunities. It is astonishing that anyone
can contend that the “sound basic education” students
in New York State are guaranteed in our State Constitution can
be so inferior that students are not educated enough to meet
high school graduation requirements!
Regents’ Learning Standards do not represent an “aspirational”
education, but rather the acquisition of the skills and knowledge
which New York’s educational leaders and public officials
believe are necessary for all high school graduates in New York
State to attain.
The Court of Appeals should acknowledge that the current Regents’
Learning 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
The State’s anachronistic construction of the Education
Article is no less bizarre at the dawn of the 21st century than
would be, for example, a contention that First Amendment protections
of speech should not be held applicable to the Internet, a technology
not in existence in the 18th century.
Especially in light of the Governor’s new statements repudiating
the idea that an 8th grade education is acceptable, he should
negotiate with the plaintiffs and settle this case. Failing
that, I am optimistic that the Court of Appeals will rule in
favor of educational equity for all of New York State’s
children and for funding that is realistic to meet the new standards.#
Steven Sanders is chairman of the NYS Assembly Education
Committee. You can contact him at 201 East 16th Street,
New York, NY 10003 (e-mail: email@example.com; tel.:
Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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