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School funding attorney says he's exploring injunction against 20% school aid cuts

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media File Photo
State Sen. Rachel May with state Sen. Robert Jackson in Syracuse in 2019. Jackson was part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in 1993.

More schools around New York say they are scaling back on plans for in-person learning and expanding remote instruction. They cite Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s temporary 20% cut in state aid to schools, enacted to help close a pandemic-related state budget deficit. Now, the attorney who won a court case over a lack of school funding, says the cuts might be unconstitutional, and is looking into seeking an injunction against them.  

Michael Rebell was the lead attorney in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. It resulted in a 2006 New York Court of Appeals decision that ordered the state to pay billions more in school aid each year, to help secure each child’s right under New York’s constitution, to a sound, basic education.

There’s been debate over whether that court order was ever fulfilled, under the tenure of Gov. Cuomo. But Rebell said a permanent 20% cut in state aid, which has been temporarily imposed by Cuomo, citing the COVID-19 pandemic-related state budget deficit, would likely violate that court order. He said he’s looking at the possibility of seeking a legal injunction against the cuts.

“That constitutional right doesn’t go on hold because there are financial constraints, because the state is having financial difficulties,” Rebell said. “This is a constitutional right.”

Rebell spoke at a news conference with education funding advocates and several state lawmakers, including the cofounder of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and now state Sen. Robert Jackson.

Rebell said he and others are still researching whether an injection can be sought, and have not yet made a decision.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.