Copyright (c) 2006 St. John's University
St. John's Journal of Legal Commentary
NOTE: PUBLIC SCHOOL FINANCE LITIGATION IN NEW YORK AND MASSACHUSETTS: THE BAD AFTERTASTE OF A CAMPAIGN FOR FISCAL EQUITY WIN IN NEW YORK
21 St. John's J.L. Comm. 353
Michael T. Stanczyk*
All state constitutions have an education clause requiring the state legislature to provide its schoolchildren with a free public education. 1 State courts have interpreted these clauses as conferring a duty upon the legislature to provide not merely a free education, but an education meeting a standard of equality or adequacy. 2 The states of New York and Massachusetts have both subscribed to an adequacy standard. The New York Court of Appeals, in the case of Board of Education, Levittown Union Free School District v. Nyquist, 3 interpreted the state constitution as requiring the New York State Legislature to provide a "sound basic education" to the public school children of New York State. 4 The Massachusetts Supreme Court announced its state constitutional duty to "cherish the interests of ... public schools" in McDuffy v. Secretary of the Executive Office of Education. 5 Although these standards were articulated in different manners, both encompass the same sort of adequacy theory. 6
That is why it comes as such a surprise that both of the respective state courts came to opposite decisions in their subsequent public school finance cases. The New York case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York (CFE II) 7 and Hancock v. Commissioner of Education 8 in Massachusetts, both came to their respective highest state courts in similar fashions, brought by similar plaintiffs seeking similar remedies. In both cases, under-funded school districts sued their respective states claiming that a constitutional duty owed ...
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