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Appeals Court Rules State Must Give City More School Funding

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Parent activists were handed another court victory Thursday in their long running battle to win billions of dollars in state aid for city schools.

In a 3-2 ruling, the state's Appellate Division again upheld a decision that Albany has shortchanged city schools and must spend as much as $5.6 billion a year more on the city's school system.

The two dissenting judges actually called for a stronger directive against the State Legislature.

In 2003, the state lost the original lawsuit brought by the parents group the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. However, Governor George Pataki has continued to appeal that decision.

In a statement, Governor Pataki said: "Today's court decision reaffirms the longstanding constitutional principle of separation of powers, and has again made clear that budgetary decisions must be made by the governor and Legislature, not the courts."

However, United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten had a different take on the ruling, saying in a statement: "One more time the CFE naysayers have been rebuffed. This is a clear directive to the Legislature and the governor to do the right thing and provide - in this year's budget - the educational opportunities this money would give New York City's public school children."

The next step in any legal battle would be the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.



NY1’s Josh Robin filed this report from Albany.

The decision from the Appellate Division is unambiguous: the state is failing city school kids. Legislators now have until April 1st to provide between $4.7 to $5.6 billion in more yearly aid.

It's a ruling that greatly complicates budget negotiations. A deadline to pass the state budget is just over a week away, and the numbers Governor Pataki has floated is between about $200 million and $1 billion.

“I told them that the smile on my face was ten feet wide, because it represents 1.1 million schoolchildren,” said Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson. “How happy they are that they received this decision.”

The 3-2 decision is the latest chapter in a saga that probably won't end until the governor leaves office, and the state's highest court decides on the case, should the governor appeal.

In a statement, Pataki wouldn’t say whether he would fight Thursday’s ruling. But the governor says the numbers are in line with what he’s passed before, and what he proposes this year.

While school advocates praise the ruling, a close read shows it can also be seen as a setback for them. The ruling lowers by about $1 billion the amount that could be funded for a basic education.

A commission called by the governor reported school funding should jump by $4.7 billion a year. A court-appointed panel found the number should be $5.8 billion.

The justices on Thursday said the governor and the Legislature have to fund a number that falls between the two figures. But the amount is far more than what Pataki had argued in court was needed.

Left unanswered is whether the battle will indeed end this year. The majority declined to force the government to boost funding, nor would they identify where the funds that can be tapped. Doing that would violate separation of powers, they said.

But two dissenting justices disagreed. If the court doesn't step in, Albany could remain in "legislative paralysis."

That leaves the governor and the Legislature with a major task and little time to find an end to a case now in its 13th year.

- Josh Robin
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