Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability

Report Identifies Approach for Lawsuit to Achieve School-Choice Scholarships for Buffalo and Rochester Students

New York’s Failure to Improve Student Achievement and the State Court of Appeals’ Willingness to Reexamine Educational Equity Issues Provide Opportunity to Achieve School-Choice Remedy


Friday, February 1, 2013


B. Jason Brooks, Director of Research

(518) 383-2598

Download Full Report: A New Approach to Educational Equity in New York: Suing for School-Choice Scholarships to Free Students from Failing Schools (PDF)

Press Release PDF

The failure of New York’s large urban school districts to significantly improve the academic outcomes of low-income and minority students, coupled with the willingness of the state courts to hear cases examining New York’s constitutional guarantee to a “sound, basic education,” provide a prime opportunity for lawsuits seeking court-ordered school-choice scholarships in Buffalo and Rochester, according to a new report from the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability.

The report, A New Approach to Educational Equity in New York: Suing for School-Choice Scholarships to Free Students from Failing Schools, finds that New York could improve educational outcomes without relying on further increasing state education funding – the primary focus of previous and current educational equity lawsuits in the state.  Rather, the report outlines, the courts could order students trapped in failing schools to be provided with publicly-funded school-choice scholarships that allow them to transfer to better performing private and public schools of their choice.

According to B. Jason Brooks, Director of Research at the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, “The state’s public education system continues to spend without using resources in ways that improve student achievement.  Families trapped in failing schools shouldn’t be forced to settle another day for the empty promises of reform.  We know school-choice scholarships work, and the courts should offer them to disenfranchised students as a solution that will immediately provide access to a better education.”

Massive spending hikes have done little if anything to improve student achievement, the report notes, and so a different court-ordered remedy – publicly funded school-choice scholarships – should now be tried.  The demographics and chronic failure of the state’s second and third largest school districts, the city school districts of Buffalo and Rochester, present the strongest venues to try such a case and implement a school-choice scholarship program

According to Brooks, “If New Yorkers are going to use the court system to seek the public policy medicine that will cure what ails the public education system, citizens should at least make sure they’re suing to get a prescription for something that works.”

Since the state Court of Appeals’ 2006 ruling ordering the state to enact dramatic increases in state aid, total state education aid expenditures have grown by $9.3 billion, or nearly 20 percent.  In the past decade, total education expenditures have grown by $35.4 billion, an increase of almost 160 percent.  In spite of this, a coalition of 13 small-city school districts recently received the green light from the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, to proceed with a lawsuit seeking further increases in state aid.  Jumping on the bandwagon, two additional more-spending organizations – the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity – have indicated that they, too, will likely initiate separate lawsuits to force further school-aid hikes.

The report argues that three critical factors make the state a prime venue for a successful lawsuit seeking school-choice scholarships as a remedy to inequity in public education:

  • The State Constitution guarantees a “sound, basic education,” as defined by the state’s Court of Appeals in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, and the state is failing to provide such an education;
  • The State has a competent system for evaluating and identifying low-performing schools and districts, effectively identifying where New York school children are not receiving an acceptable basic education; and
  • The New York State Constitution does not expressly forbid publicly-funded school-choice options, such as school-choice scholarships.

Research shows that school-choice scholarship programs in other states have been shown to be successful at raising individual student achievement and improving district school performance and can provide immediate relief to students trapped in failing urban schools.   The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of publicly-funded school-choice scholarships.

The report, including details on education spending trends and analyses of academic outcomes, may be found on FERA’s website online at

# # # # #

The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability (FERA) is an independent, nonprofit, research organization dedicated to improving education in New York State by promoting accountability, stimulating innovation, and supporting school-choice efforts across the state.