Frustrated that the state has not fully complied with a 2004 court order to send billions of dollars more in aid to New York City's schools, the group that brought the case appealed yesterday to the state's highest court to force the state's hand.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity has asked the Court of Appeals to hear arguments within 30 days, hoping that if the action is successful, justices will compel lawmakers to address the court case before the legislative session ends in June.
Last month, in a 3-2 ruling, a lower court directed Gov. George Pataki and the State Legislature to fulfill the order. But in the same decision, the state Appellate Division said it could only urge the legislature to spend the money because the judiciary could not set education policy.
Michael Rebell, an attorney for CFE, the three letters by which the case has come to be known, said that stance was flawed. The appeal filed with the state Court of Appeals yesterday urged the state's top justices to explicitly make the state pay up.
"The executive and legislative branches are being allowed to defy a court," Rebell told reporters during a conference call yesterday. "It would be unconscionable to delay."
Scott Reif, a spokesman for the governor, said the state's attorneys are considering whether to file its own appeal to block CFE's move.
"We are surprised at the decision to appeal because CFE had declared victory after the court issued its decision," Reif said, citing last month's ruling, which was praised by advocates, including CFE.
Rebell said the group will ask the court to consider sanctions against the state, which may include a freeze in education spending, jail time or fines.
In 2004, a panel of court referees ruled that the state should send the city $5.6 billion more in operating aid, phased in over four years, and $9.2 billion more for school construction, phased in over five years. In this year's budget, the state sent the city $427 million more in operating aid and $6.5 billion more for construction.
While education advocates were relatively pleased with the construction money - which was matched by a $4.7-billion contribution from the city - they were disappointed the state did not come up with more operating aid.
"We believe the time for action is now," said Geri Palast, CFE's executive director, noting the fight began in 1994.
Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who has aggressively backed increased funding for city schools, said Silver supports CFE's move.
But his counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick), reiterated his call for the courts to stay out of the funding dispute.
"We continue to believe that legislative solution is the best way to resolve this issue rather than through the court system," he said.