Activists threaten lawsuit over school funding

By Erika Mahoney

March 1, 2014 Updated Mar 3, 2014 at 12:14 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The struggle over education funding between New York State and its public schools rages on.

As districts begin to draft their budgets for the coming year, one group of activists promises to take the fight to court if the state doesn't up the ante.

Binghamton High School hosted that group Friday afternoon.

BHS Principal Roxie Oberg calls the cuts a "gradual erosion" of what the district can offer.

"We have more and more demands placed on us by the state, greater needs for more students, and fewer monies to do it with. For years, our mantra has been to do more with less, and at some point you have to do less with less."

A science teacher at Whitney Point High School called the cuts "devastating."

"We continue to ask our students to reach for the stars," Nancy Wallace said. "It just seems that with what we're doing, with where we are putting our resources, those stars are out of reach."

Both districts serve low income areas, and leaders in both areas say less money and more testing is hurting those who need the help most.

The activist groups Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity are fed up with broken promises.

"In 2007, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement was made with Governor Spitzer and the legislature promised $5.5 billion over the course of 4 years in increases for public education," said Chad Radock, the statewide campaign coordinator for Alliance for Quality Education. "They get through the first two and then the bottom fell out of the economy. And since then they've taken all of that plus more back."

The settlement came from court action in 2003.

"In 2003, New York's highest court found that New York State was depriving New York City school children of their basic educational rights because of its failed funding system," said Wendy Lecker, a senior attorney for Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a project of the Education Law Center.

Lecker says 11 years later, districts are in the same or worse position than city districts found themselves in 2003. AQE and CFE believe it might be time for another lawsuit.

In order to gather information, the groups visited 14 schools in 13 counties to investigate the impacts of funding cuts.

"We found some very similar themes from school to school," Radock said. "Number one, library services for elementary school students has been cut."

Come Monday, they plan to take their findings to Albany and call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to balance funding and increase aid.

They also plan to request $1.9 billion in foundation aid for this year.

If their requests are denied, they say the next step is court.

"If the legislature does not step up to its obligation that it acknowledged back in 2007, these children have no Bother recourse but to go to court," Lecker said.