Safeguarding Educational Rights K-12

Skip to content Skip to main navigation
Teachers College, Columbia University
Printer-friendly Version
Teachers College, Columbia University Logo
banner

Center for Educational Equity

Safeguarding Educational Rights K-12

In November 2016, the Center for Educational Equity (formerly Campaign for Educational Equity) released a series of reports designed as a policy roadmap to help guide elected officials, the Board of Regents, and the New York State Education Department in moving New York toward providing all children the essential educational opportunities guaranteed by law. View our four-part series, Students' Constitutional Right to a Sound Basic Education: New York State's Unfinished Agenda.


The recent recession has had a devastating impact on the educational opportunities of students, particularly those from low-income households. Many schools around the state currently lack the basic educational resources they need to provide their students the opportunity for a sound basic education guaranteed by the state constitution. The effects have been especially acute on students in New York City. The state’s recent small funding increases have done almost nothing to remedy the vast resource gaps identified by the courts in the CFE litigation and then exacerbated by deep funding cuts over the past five years.
 
In spite of the Governor Cuomo’s appointment of an education reform commission with a broad mandate to improve New York’s schools, almost no serious attention has been given to the critical issue of constitutional compliance to ensure that all students have what they need to succeed in school -- or to the specific actions that need to be taken to achieve this. The Safeguarding Sound Basic Education project strives to fill this gap.
 
Since April 2011, the Center for Educational Equity has been conducting research, legal and policy analysis, and public engagement with the goal of producing new information, legal strategies, policy proposals, and advocacy tools to safeguard the right of New York students to a sound basic education. We have published a constitutional analysis of children’s right to a sound basic education in difficult economic times, conducted statewide research amassing evidence about the availability of essential resources and services in high needs schools, developed and published an authoritative analysis of all of the relevant judicial, legislative, and regulatory require­ments that relate to constitutional compliance and implementation of the New York State Learning Standards, and forged a new statewide alliance of supporters.
 
Legal Background:
 
In 2003, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, held in Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York that Article XI, § 1 of the state constitution requires New York State to provide all of its students “a meaningful high school education,” one that will prepare them to “function productively as civic participants capable of voting [or] serving on a jury,” and “to obtain ‘competitive employment.’” (CFE II, 801 N.E. 2d at 332). In 2006, the court ordered the state to implement a remedy in the case. 
 
In 2007, in response to the court’s holding, the state legislature enacted a new education finance statute that called for funding increases of about $5.4 billion for New York City and $4 billion for the rest of the state, to be phased in over a four-year period. The state largely met its constitutional and statutory obligations for the first two years of the phase-in, but, as the fiscal exigencies of the recession started to take hold, for the third year of the scheduled four-year phase-in (the 2009-10 school year) the legislature froze foundation funding at the prior year’s level.
 
For the next fiscal year, the governor and the legislature reduced basic foundation funding statewide by $740 million, largely through a “temporary” “gap elimination adjustment” mechanism, and for the 2011-12 fiscal year, the state cut overall state aid for educational operations by an additional $1.5 billion (or 8.5%). The state increased school funding slightly for 2012-13, and again for 2013-14; however, even with the new funding, total foundation funding is still more than $4 billion below the amount the state legislature determined, in the wake of the Court of Appeals decision in CFE v. State of New York, was necessary to provide all students the opportunity for a sound basic education. And a $1.64 billion gap elimination adjustment is still in place—an acknowledgment that students’ needs are being ignored because the state is not prepared to appropriate the necessary funds.
 
Constitutional rights are not conditional, and they cannot be put on hold because there is a recession or state budget deficit. In past and recent court decisions dealing with reductions in state funding for education during times of fiscal constraint, the courts have consistently upheld students’ right to a sound basic education every time they have directly confronted the issue. For example, in 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court invalidated Governor Chris Christie’s attempt to reduce educational expenditures because of state budget deficits. The court held that funding for the 31 poor urban Abbott districts must be increased for the current school year by approximately $500 million (Abbott v. Burke, 20 A. 3d 1018 (NJ 2011)). Similarly, in North Carolina, where the 2011 budget bill had capped enrollment for at-risk children in the state’s prekindergarten program and cut the program’s budget by $32 million, the superior court invalidated the cap restriction and issued an order requiring the state to “provide the quality services of the [pre-kindergarten program] to any eligible at risk four year old that applies” (Hoke Co. Bd. of Educ. v. North Carolina, 95 CVS 1158, p.19 (Superior Ct., Wake Co., July 2011)). 
 
For further reading, see Michael Rebell's law review article on judicial responses to budget cuts: Safeguarding the Right to a Sound Basic Education in Times of Fiscal Constraint, 75 Alb L. Rev 1855 (2012).

Know Your Educational Rights Handout Series

Several years ago, our team published the first-ever compilation of students' educational rights under New York State law. After undertaking an extensive research project to investigate educational inadequacies in high-needs schools around the state, we published detailed findings of widespread educational-rights violations. Our growing Know Your Educational Rights Handout Series summarizes those rights and findings in user-friendly language that helps families and other New Yorkers understand and advocate for the opportunities that New York public schools must be equipped to provide. One shouldn't need a law degree or a master's degree in policy to understand children's rights!

To date, we have published free, downloadable handouts on students' general constitutional right to a "sound basic education" and in the following specific resource areas: class size, curriculum and course offerings, required services for students struggling academically, resources for English language learners, instructional materials, physical education, facilities, and school libraries.

Please share them with your school and community, and stay tuned for new handouts in additional resource areas!

View/Download our handouts

Know Your Educational Rights:
Youth, Parent, Educator, and Community Engagement

Our Know Your Educational Rights (KYER) initiative aims to bring rights-centered, research-based, user-friendly information and tools to the general public, but especially to students and parents, the education stakeholders most directly affected by educational inequities. KYER promotes leadership development, self-advocacy, and public accountability through a powerful combination of straightforward handouts, community-based partnerships, and do-it-yourself research tools. Read the summaries below to learn more about each component. 

Youth Activism

Educational Equity Action!, the youth-activism arm of Know Your Educational Rights, promotes youth voice in the fight for educational equity through intensive partnerships with youth-development organizations specializing in the arts and/or community organizing. Aided by our research and public-engagement teams and mentored by staff from our partner organizations, youth participants develop projects that inform, inspire, and mobilize other community members.

During the Summer of 2016, Educational Equity Action! teamed up with THE POINT CDC, a phenomenal South Bronx-centered youth development organization, for a six-week series of interactive workshops based on our Know Your Educational Rights public-engagement model and THE POINT’s Camp PowerPoint program.

On August 11, youth participating in THE POINT’s Music and A.C.T.I.O.N. “majors”–having studied our Know Your Educational Rights handouts; interviewed students, parents, and other education leaders; and reflected on their personal in-school experiences–used their artistic talents to encourage their community to fight for educational equity!

WATCH THIS SIX-MINUTE VIDEO OF THEIR  CULMINATING PERFORMANCES:

 

 

Parent Leadership

Know Your Educational Rights Workshop Series, facilitated in collaboration with parent-leadership organizations, fosters community-centered, family-led research and advocacy that ensures students the adequate school resources to which they are entitled under state law.

Resource Inventories

Our Know Your Educational Rights Resource Inventories offer students, parents, educators, and other key stakeholders a user-friendly research toolkit for assessing the levels of educational opportunity in a particular school, or across schools, against the set of opportunities guaranteed under the law.