Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that New York has finally settled on a court case it has been fighting for years that requires the state to pay schools the money they have been owed for decades.
The New York Court of Appeals ruled 15 years ago that the state was unequally funding school districts and owed schools in low-income communities billions of dollars.
But as Jamaica Miles with Alliance for Quality Education explained, that was just the first battle in a long fight.
“We win the lawsuit that says, 'Yes, you're underfunding our schools, we need to do better,' and the foundation aid formula is created,” Miles said. “Two years later, the recession hits and our schools are used to balance the budget.”
The Legislature never followed through on this court ruling and another court case was filed in 2014.
Year after year, school districts in low-income communities have had to try to make up for the gaps in their budgets due to unequal funding.
For example, Schenectady High School was owed $43 million just for last year.
“Children are impacted differently based on where they live, if they're English language learners, if they have different disabilities, if they are living in poverty,” Miles explained. “Schenectady is 13th in the nation for poverty. Our children have special needs.”
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been fighting this lawsuit, but Hochul says they have now reached an agreement with the plaintiffs in the case.
The state has pledged to phase in the $4.2 billion required to reach full funding of the Foundation Aid formula by the FY 2024 budget.
"This settlement closes a long chapter of inequity, and demonstrates my administration's commitment to wiping the slate clean and fully funding public education using a responsive model that takes districts' unique needs into account,” Hochul said. “Actions are more important than words, and while the settlement is the first step, we're following through with funding in the state's budget. The future of our state depends on our ability to properly educate each child, and Foundation Aid will apply a critical lens to address inequities and ensure schools in need receive the funding they deserve."
Miles, who is not only a plaintiff in this case but also a mother, says this was a win for parents and students across the state.
“There is this opportunity now for my children to receive the education they deserve, and that their peers are going to receive the programs, services and opportunities for them to be successful,” Miles said. “It gives more hope that tomorrow is going to be better for our children and for our children's children.”
The state already committed to fully funding Foundation Aid in the budget passed in March, but if lawmakers do not follow through on this commitment, the settlement allows this court case to proceed with an expedited trial.