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Utica parents, students will continue education funding battle

Karen DeWitt
WRVO News File Photo

The parents and children in Utica and seven other upstate school districts involved in the so-called "Small Cities Lawsuit" say their fight for obtaining more education funding is not done yet.

They are appealing a state supreme court judge's recent ruling that New York state has met its constitutional obligation to provide additional money from an earlier court decision in 2006. But the plaintiff's attorney Wendy Lecker said New York never fully phased in that remedy, which was called the Foundation Aid Formula.

"The Foundation Aid was supposed to be phased in over four years and it was never done," Lecker said. "They started phasing it in the first two years and then the state froze foundation aid and then cut it, so we don’t know if it would have been enough, but what we do know is that these cuts devastated these districts and the districts at the time of trial and several times prior had so little funding that they had to impose draconian cuts." 

The eight main school districts involved in the lawsuit include Mt. Vernon, Utica, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Kingston, Port Jervis, Jamestown and Niagara Falls. Lecker said the cuts those districts have had to make have left the already disadvantaged schools in a worse spot. 

"These districts are in a double whammy," Lecker said. "They have very high needs and they do not have the ability to raise the revenue. As we showed at trial, that coupled with the inadequate state funding resulted in conditions that no child should have to learn in." 

Lecker said New York state could fix the situation by restoring the Foundation Aid funding, which the Alliance for a Quality Education estimates to be about $3.9 billion statewide. The New York State Legislature did pass record education funding levels in its 2016-2017 budget.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.