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The group that just won a historic school funding decision is calling on New York Governor George Pataki and legislative leaders to begin initiating the type of reform the trial court ordered, even as appeals proceed. At a press conference Tuesday, Michael A. Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, asked the governor and Legislature to establish an independent panel of educators and economists “who stand outside of the political fray” to examine the state’s options in light of the funding decision, and formulate a new educational financing scheme. In CFE v. State, decided Jan. 10, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse held that New York’s school financing system deprives New York City students of the funds needed to provide the constitutionally mandated “sound basic education.” DeGrasse gave the state until Sept. 15 to come up with a new funding formula. However, Pataki last week said the state will appeal, which automatically stays DeGrasse’s ruling. “If the governor feels he has to dial up the appellate process, he shouldn’t make it a lengthy call and in any event, he shouldn’t put the children on hold,” Rebell said. “Every month of delay is denying thousands of children in this state their right to a sound basic education.” Pataki does not disagree that New York’s educational funding system is archaic, illogical and unfair, and in fact is proposing an initiative in which aid would be increased and districts would have far more flexibility and autonomy in determining how their money is spent. However, the governor has also said that he disagrees with DeGrasse’s premise — that the system is so deficient as to be unconstitutional — and strongly objects to what he considers judicial interference in a matter of legislative province. Tuesday, Rebell did not ask the governor to drop his plans to appeal, nor did he ask Pataki to wed himself to any particular funding formula or proposal. Rather, he asked the executive and legislative branches to begin the process of reform so that new procedures are ready for implementation regardless of the outcome of the appeal. Joseph Conway, a spokesman for Pataki, said the governor made clear in his budget presentation last week “that he is committed to enacting sweeping, fundamental reforms that will address the needs of high-need districts and ensure fairness and a quality education for school districts throughout the state.” Conway said the governor is intent on seizing the opportunity presented by the public and political attention generated through DeGrasse’s ruling. “We are looking forward to working in a bipartisan fashion with the Senate and Assembly to take advantage of this great opportunity to accomplish sweeping reforms,” Conway said. Assemblyman Steven Sanders, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Education Committee, said Rebell’s suggestion has merit. “I think it could be a useful tool if the governor and Senate were willing to participate,” Sanders said. “But I think they have pretty clearly indicated they are not prepared to take any action [toward] remedying the problems outlined by the judge until after the appeals.” NOT-FOR-PROFIT The Campaign for Fiscal Equity Inc. is a not-for-profit coalition that has been working for several years to straighten out what everyone seems to agree is a mess: New York’s complicated school aid formulas. Now, there are between 40 and 50 different formulas in effect, and the governor would whittle those down by about a dozen. But the bottom line, according to DeGrasse, is that the state is currently shortchanging children in New York City. Although his decision specifically addressed the situation in the city, it has statewide implications. Advocates were somewhat disheartened, although not necessarily surprised, when the governor announced his intention to appeal. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has said he will seek to expedite the process. Meanwhile, all 25 members of the Senate Democratic minority, plus five Republican senators from New York City, signed a letter Tuesday urging the governor to forgo an appeal. “Senate Democrats agree that the state’s school district funding formulas should be changed,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Conner of Manhattan. “But we also believe that with the CFE decision, Judge DeGrasse has provided us a road map for that change. We should take that map and follow it.”

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