Sara Vogel. Columbia Spectator. 4/19/2006.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity filed an appeal to the highest court in the state Tuesday afternoon, attempting to resolve a 13-year-old case that demands the allocation of billions of state dollars for New York City public schools.

The campaign’s most recent appeal seeks to clarify whether or not the judiciary can order the executive and legislative branches of the state government to spend specific amounts of public money.

CFE applied to have the courts begin opening arguments within 30 days, expediting a process which, under normal circumstances, would take as long as a year.

“Two classes have graduated from high school [since the state’s constitutional violation was declared],” said Michael Rebell, a lawyer for CFE. “The integrity of the whole judicial process is at stake, and the education of a million kids. It would be unconceivable to delay this thing into another legislative session.”

CFE has been waiting since 2003 for the state legislature to act on a court order, which stated that New York City public school students were not receiving their constitutionally guaranteed “sound basic education.”

While the legislature funded school construction projects to the full extent of the court order in its 2006-2007 budget, CFE officials say the $400 million earmarked to cover New York City schools’ operating costs “fall short” of compliance.

“The state’s attorneys are reviewing whether we now need to file a cross appeal to protect the state taxpayers’ rights in light of today’s unexpected action by CFE,” Scott Reif, a spokesman for the governor, told the Associated Press.

If the courts rule in the campaign’s favor, and the state does not comply with the court order, CFE is prepared to ask the courts to institute sanctions against the state, which may include jailing, heavy fines, and even a suspension of public school funding.

While the state legislative budget has been criticized by Governor Pataki and other fiscally conservative groups, the campaign says allocating the additional funding for the 2006-2007 fiscal year would not be impossible.

Geri Palast, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said the “vehicles” to legislate the court order already exist, citing two bills currently up for consideration in the Assembly and Senate.

“If we are successful, there should be time to take action,” she said.

Council member Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights), lead plaintiff on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said he was confident that CFE will win the appeal.

“The governor is just playing games,” he said. “The language [of the court orders] is very clear. I say yes, sanctions. And I would say tell the judge to hold them in contempt and put them in jail.”