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Lawsuit: New York state shortchanged city schools during recession

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An education advocacy group sued the state of New York on Tuesday for more than $1 billion in promised school funding, saying the state had failed to live up to its responsibility to offer students a "sound basic education" due to budget cuts.

The group, New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights, argues the state has failed to comply with a 2006 appellate court ruling that said New York City schools were being denied sufficient funding, according to the lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

In response to that ruling, the state legislature in 2007 enacted a statewide education reform statute in which the state committed $7 billion in additional aid over four years.

But after two years and amid a widening recession, the state government froze and later "dramatically slashed" aid for education, according to the lawsuit.

The group, which was formed specifically to bring the lawsuit, said Albany is $4 billion behind on its funding promises. It is seeking $1.6 billion in immediate relief for school districts, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit comes as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seeking to cut taxes for New Yorkers to shed what he argues is the state's image as a burdensome destination to do business as he gears up for re-election later this year.

Earlier this year, Cuomo, a Democrat, announced a plan to create universal access to pre-kindergarten programs. The program was a major campaign issue for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, though de Blasio has called for a tax increase on wealthy New York City residents to pay for it.

Michael Rebell, a lawyer representing New Yorkers for Students' Educational Rights, said on Tuesday that Cuomo has told school districts "to do more with less."

"But he doesn't tell them how to do it," Rebell added. "Legally and morally, that's not right."

Melissa DeRosa, a spokeswoman for Cuomo, who was also named in the lawsuit, said in a statement that New York taxpayers spend more money per pupil on education and yet rank below other states in performance. In 2013, New York ranked 32nd in 8th grade math scores and 8th grade reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

"The governor will continue to make smart investments in reforming our schools, but as any objective observer can see, money alone is not the answer," DeRosa said.

(Editing by Edith Honan, G Crosse and Matthew Lewis)

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