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Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York (719 N.Y.S.2d 475)

9 January 2001


United States of America

Thematic focus

  • Children‘s Rights
  • Education Rights
  • Equality and Nondiscrimination
  • Judicial Oversight of Budget Allocations
  • Legal Remedies (Right to)

Forum and Date of Decision:

Supreme Court of New York, 9 January 2001.

Nature of the case

Challenge against state school funding system on the basis of the Education Article of the New York Constitution (Article XI § 1); remedies; allocation of resources; adequacy of funding; discrimination against minorities through inadequate funding; Time permitted for the legislature to devise an appropriate remedy.


In 1995, the Court of Appeals decided that the Education Article of the New York Constitution requires that the state offer all children the opportunity for a “sound basic education.”  The Court stated that the exact meaning of this standard could only be evaluated and resolved after the case went to trial (see, summary of the decision at. (para. adapted from: ‘Ensuring Every New York Child Their Constitutional Right to a Sound Basic Education’: In January 2001 the challenge came before Justice Leland DeGrasse. In Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York et al. 719 N.Y.S.2d 475, he found that the defendants’ method for funding education in New York State violated the Constitution because the education provided to New York City students was so deficient that it fell below the “constitutional floor” set by the Education Article. He held that the State’s actions were a substantial cause of this violation. Furthermore, he ruled that the State school funding system had an adverse and disparate impact on minority public school children and that this disparate impact was not adequately justified by any reason related to education, resulting in a violation of the implementing regulations of US Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Instead of prescribing a remedy, he ordered the State to devise and implement necessary reform of the State’s public school financing system.   DeGrasse J’s decision in relation to the Education Article was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal in Campaign for Fiscal Equity et al. v. State of New York et al. (100 N.Y. 2d 893). The Court concluded that “the Education Article requires the opportunity for a sound high school education that should prepare students for higher education, or to compete in the employment market of high school graduates” and to enable them to function productively as civic participants.  However, the Court rejected CFE’s claim under the Civil Rights Act as, in its view, there was not a private right of action under these regulations. The Court of Appeal modified DeGrasse J’s holding stating that “in the course of reforming the school finance system, a threshold task that must be performed by defendants is ascertaining, to the extent possible, the actual costs of providing a sound basic education in districts around the State”. Instead, the Court of Appeal held that the State need only ascertain the actual cost of providing a sound basic education in New York City.

Enforcement of the decision and other outcomes

The State failed to devise and implement necessary reform of the public school financing system and, on 14 February 2005, Leland DeGrasse J proposed his own solution after receiving a report from a panel of special referees. He ordered that an additional US$ 5.6 billion in annual operating expenses be provided within four years to ensure that the city’s public school children will be given the opportunity to obtain the sound basic education. He also ordered that US$ 9.2 billion in added funding for capital projects be provided over five years. The State appealed. On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department upheld the decision, ordering the legislature to provide New York City schools $4.7 to $5.63 billion in operating aid and $9.2 billion in capital funding by April 1, 2006. The 2006 New York State Budget Agreement makes significant strides towards securing the courts-ordered reforms in relation to capital funding but budgets less than one-tenth of what the courts required in terms of operating aid increases.

Significance of the case

This case is illustrative of the fact that where government fails to take steps to remedy constitutional violations identified by a court, the court may be required to formulate far-reaching orders with large budgetary implications.