High Court Declines To Hear N.Y. SuitOn School Financing

By Charlie Euchner — January 26, 1983 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal last week to hear Levittown v. Nyquist, one of the nation’s best-known school-finance cases, reaffirms that the issues surrounding state and local financing of public schools must be decided by the states under state constitutions, experts said last week.

Levittown, N.Y., and 26 other relatively poor districts, as well as four large cities in the state, asked the Court to consider their claim that New York State’s dependence on property taxes for its school-finance system creates a “double standard” in public education.

But the Court--in its first look at the issue of equity in educational finance since 1973, when it concluded in San Antonio Public School District v. Rodriguez that education is not a fundamental constitutional right--rejected the plea without comment.

“For the moment, this spells the end to federal claims,” said Daniel P. Levitt, the plaintiffs’ principal lawyer in the suit, initiated in 1974. “It says, ‘If you’re going to do anything [to change school funding], do it in the state courts.”’

The districts had claimed that the disparity in school spending violated the equal-protection and education clauses of the state constitution and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Levitt said the Court’s action might “poison the climate,” but noted that by forcing litigants to deal exclusively with state laws it could help clarify the legal issues in such cases.

Favorable Response

He noted that the New Jersey Supreme Court responded favorably to finance-reform litigation on state constitutional grounds immediately after the Rodriguez decision.

A similar school-finance case is now before the Maryland Court of Appeals.

“It was important to take up Levittown, because when the Court has reversed itself, it is because it has become aware over time of the problems of earlier decisions,” said David Long, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “The inequity problem is going to fester, and at some time in the future the Court will [reconsider Rodriguez].”

Added John Silard, another attorney in the case: “I can’t believe that this is the final word.”

In Rodriguez, the Court stated that Texas officials had to apply a “rational basis” in financing education, but said that education was not a constitutional right. The Court has since used a “sliding scale’’ to weigh the interests of the governments and residents seeking education.

Levittown and the other plaintiffs argued that the state’s dependence on property taxes to fund schools contributed to educational inequities across the state, because property values vary widely and many communities have a limited tax base. The state government paid about $4.2 billion of the $10 billion spent last year on education in New York.

The plaintiffs had prevailed in three lower New York state courts, but those decisions were overturned last summer by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

The districts took the case to the Court because they saw a “ray of hope” in the Plyler v. Doe Court case in June, Mr. Levitt said. In that case, the Court stated that, although education is not a fundamental constitutional right, it is the most important public service that governments render.

‘Property-Poor’ Districts

Under the current financing formula in New York, “property-poor” districts often tax property at a significantly higher rate than others but spend much less on schools. Levittown’s tax rate, for example, is 50-percent higher than that of wealthier Great Neck, but per-pupil expenditures are about 50 percent less.

Acknowledging such disparities, former Gov. Hugh L. Carey last year proposed increasing the sales tax by one cent and reducing aid to wealthier districts. The proposal met opposition in the legislature.

Mr. Carey’s successor, Mario M. Cuomo, now faces what some analysts say might be a $1.8-billion deficit in the state’s $17.7 billion budget.

The new governor has pledged to send a new proposal to reform the state’s school-finance program to the legislature this year, but observers say its chances of passage would be slim under the circumstances.

A version of this article appeared in the January 26, 1983 edition of Education Week as High Court Declines To Hear N.Y. SuitOn School Financing


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: January 12, 2022
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education School Bus Driver Retires After 48 Years Behind Wheel
Charles City school bus driver Betty Flick sat behind the wheel for the final time last week, wrapping up a 48-year career for the district.
3 min read
Charles City school bus driver Betty Flick poses with one of her farewell signs. Flick has been driving for Charles City School District for 48 years.
Betty Flick quickly fell in love with the job and with the kids, which is what has had her stay in the district for this long.
Courtesy of Abby Koch/Globe Gazette
Education Briefly Stated: December 1, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read