This case concerns the state’s responsibilities under the state Constitution to provide children in the New York City School District with the "opportunity" for a "sound basic education." In 1995, the Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision in this case, 86 N.Y. 2d 307 (1995), holding that the Education Article of the state Constitution "requires the State to offer all children the "opportunity" for a "sound basic education." (CFE, 86 N.Y.2d at 316). The court further held that the state’s failure to fulfill this constitutional mandate would give rise to a judicially cognizable cause of action. At trial, the plaintiffs proved and the trial court found that the State was failing to provide New York City school children with the "opportunity" to receive "a sound basic education." The Appellate Division reversed, however, offering a narrow interpretation of the constitutional right to "a sound basic education." The Appellate Division decision rested upon the conclusion that the constitutionally mandated opportunity to receive a "sound basic education" should consist of little more than the opportunity to receive an eighth or ninth grade education; that the facilities and resources provided to New York City’s school children were not "so inadequate as to deprive students of the opportunity to acquire the skills that constitute…a sound basic education"; and that the State is not legally responsible for such failure because the appropriate societal "cure lies in eliminating the socio-economic conditions facing certain students." CFE appealed the Appellate Division’s decision to the Court of Appeals.

The NYCLU submitted an amicus brief, in support of CFE’s appeal, to address each of these fundamental errors committed by the Appellate Division. On June 26, 2003, the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division’s decision and directed the state to remedy the inadequate education in New York City. The state Legislature failed to arrive at a legislative remedy. Consequently, the trial judge appointed a three-referee panel to consider and recommend a judicial remedy that will address the current unconstitutional conditions in the New York City schools. The NYCLU filed an amicus brief before the panel, and continues to support legislation that would attempt to implement the CFE principles statewide. 

State Supreme Court, New York County, Index No. 111070-93 (amicus) 


Arthur Eisenberg, Christopher Dunn, Donald Shaffer





Stay informed

The New York Civil Liberties Union is a state affiliate of the ACLU

Learn more about ACLU National