Education Officials Continue To Fight For Fiscal Equality

An Appeals Court recently ruled in favor for eight school districts that have claimed for years they have been underfunded.

“Maitso V. State,” also know as the “small cities” case that Jamestown has been involved in, is an ongoing case that began in 2009 and has roots dating back to 2007. The eight school districts involved in the case include: Jamestown, Kingston, Mount Vernon, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie and Utica.

“We were encouraged to see that the Court kept alive the constitutional validity of the claim that small city schools, like Jamestown, are not fairly funded,” said Bret Apthorpe, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools. “The present school funding formula is political in design and aid is not distributed equitably to communities.”

In 2007, after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a movement to ensure equal funding to all schools, the state enacted the Foundation Aid formula. The formula promised an additional $5.5 billion to school aid in New York state. The money was to be distributed over the course of four years.

However, the state decided to freeze any money being allocated to the Foundation Aid in the 2009-10 school year and subsequently enacted the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) during the 2010-11 school year. In an attempt to balance the state budget, the GEA planned to cut school aid.

The plaintiffs in the “small cities” case, which include the eight school districts, contended that because of the lack of funding each school district failed to educate students properly.

In 2009, the state was denied a motion to dismiss the case and the intermediate appellate court affirmed the ruling in 2011. Then in 2012, the Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling as well. In 2015, Judge Kimberly A. O’Connor heard the Maitso Trial.

On Sept. 19, 2016, the state Supreme Court delivered a “Decision and Order” that dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims and denied the claim the eight districts were underfunded on the basis that the money that was frozen in the Foundation Aid wasn’t the minimum funding they could receive according to the state constitution.

The plaintiffs appealed the ruling on the grounds that the Supreme Court didn’t take the extensive evidence shown during the trail into consideration. The appeal was held on Sept. 5, 2017, and the Appeal Courts reversed O’Connors’ decision and reaffirmed precedents set by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in 2007. The Appeals Court stated the trial court must account for extensive evidence that included funding deficiencies in cases involving school funding.

“It should not matter where a student lives in New York state to determine the quality of public education they receive,” Apthorpe said. “Jamestown kids have the same constitutional rights to a public education as do kids in districts who benefit tremendously from the present politicized school aid formula.”

State Sen. Cathy Young is currently co-sponsoring a senate bill that would amend the current education law regarding the Foundation Aid. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Joeseph Griffo in January. The bill would ensure that money guaranteed from the Foundation Formula would finally be given to the “Maisto” communities. The bill is in the early stages and has yet to be passed by the assembly and the house.