Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Safeguarding the Right to a Sound Basic Education in Times of Fiscal Constraint

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

Safeguarding the Right to a Sound Basic Education in Times of Fiscal Constraint

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Since the economic downturn that began in 2008, shortfalls in revenues of state government have precipitated wide-spread reductions in educational expenditures that are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Schools throughout the country have shortened their hours, raised class sizes, cut back on curriculum offerings, and curtailed purchases of books and instructional supplies. Serious constitutional issues are raised by these budget cuts. Most state constitutions guarantee all students the right to the opportunity for an adequate or sound basic education. Nevertheless, many governors and legislators, while honoring their constitutional obligation to balance the budget, ignore or neglect their affirmative constitutional obligation to ensure that students' rights to the opportunity for a sound basic education are maintained in hard economic times.

It has long been established that constitutional rights cannot be denied or deferred because of state financial constraints. 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' rights to a sound basic education every time they have directly confronted the issue. However, there is an increasing pattern of judicial reluctance to confront the executive and legislative branches by using technical and procedural justifications to avoid deciding cases on the merits or to limit remedies in cases that are decided.

A detailed case study of the reductions in educational funding over the past three years in New York State illustrates the extent to which the governor and the legislature have violated the constitutional requirements articulated by the New York Court of Appeals in CFE v. State of New York. States can however, meet their constitutional obligations while, at the same time, promoting efficiency and cost effectiveness practices to meet their budget goals. To do so, they need to (1) develop guidelines concerning the essential programs and resources needed to provide a sound basic education; (2) develop efficiency and cost effectiveness policies that do not undermine student services in areas such as mandate relief, special education reform, school district consolidation, teacher turnover, and pension modification; (3) undertake a cost analysis to determine a cost effective and adequate funding level; (4) develop foundation funding systems that reflect the actual cost of providing educational services in a cost effective manner; and (5) establish state level accountability for adequacy mechanisms.

Procedures such as these provide governors and legislatures the effective tools for meeting their constitutional obligations while dealing with fiscal constraints, and courts need to enforce the constitution when they fail to use them.

  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A
     SOUND BASIC EDUCATION
III. THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT MUST BE ENFORCED
     REGARDLESS OF STATE FISCAL CONSTRAINTS
     A. The General Constitutional Doctrine
     B. Specific Application to Reductions in Educational
        Appropriations
        1. Past Court Decisions
        2. Recent and Pending Court Decisions
 IV. CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES AND CONSTITUTIONAL
     VIOLATIONS
     A. Problems of Constitutional Enforcement in Difficult
        Economic Times
     B. A New York Case Study
        1. Implementation of the Court of Appeals' CFE
           Decision
        2. Constitutional Violations
           a. Funding Reductions
           b. Deferral of Scheduled Funding Increases
           c. The Cap on Tax Increases
  V. A FRAMEWORK FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COMPLIANCE
     A. Develop State Regulations to Implement Sound Basic
        Education Requirements
     B. Promote Efficiency and Cost Effectiveness Without
        Undermining Constitutionally-Required Student
        Services
        1. … 
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