New York schools budget cuts can go ahead for now, appeals court says

The Education Department may move forward with budget cuts after an appeals court temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that invalidated the budget process.

The court of appeal order Tuesday brings a boost to back-to-school planning for the fall. Four days prior, a lower court judge ruled the city must redo the education department’s budget, which includes cuts to nearly 75% of schools. Now that order has been put on hold – at least until the case is back in court on August 29, just over a week before the first day of school.

A spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams applauded the decision allowing the city to move forward with its current budget.

“As Mayor Adams said this morning, schools will open on time in September and have the resources to ensure our students thrive next month,” said City Hall spokesperson Amaris Cockfield. in a press release. “We will continue to defend the city’s budget process.”

The Aug. 5 ruling in favor of two teachers and two parents who filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court last month said the city violated state law by approving the Department of Health’s budget. education for this exercise. The attorney representing the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The decision called on Adams and the city council to reconsider how to fund schools this year, and until that happened meant the school system should be funded at the same levels as last year. Last year’s budget was about $1 billion higher than this fiscal year’s $31 billion budget, largely thanks to a federal stimulus boost.

The city and the education department filed his appeal earlier Tuesday claiming that the August 5 ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank “plunges [the education department] into chaos at the worst possible time and cause irreparable harm,” and “throws a wrench” into September planning “that can reverberate throughout the school year.”

The appeal not only rejects the lower court‘s finding that a procedural error was made, but also said it was a “completely unprecedented remedy of imposing a record and expired budget at the DOE”. City attorneys argued that the lower court’s decision could force the Education Department to spend “at levels that would likely exhaust its allocated funding well before the end of the school year.”

The legal back and forth does not appear to have caused any dramatic changes in the way schools operate so far, apart from a very short freezing on school expenses which were quickly lifted. Still, sudden shifts in whether the city can move forward with cuts threaten to sow uncertainty over school budgets less than a month before the first day of school.

The lawsuit focuses on the budget approval process, with the lower court finding that Schools Chancellor David Banks broke the law by using a ‘declaration of emergency’ to circumvent a vote on it by the Panel for Educational Policy, a council broadly appointed by the mayor that approves spending and contracts.

But the bigger issue that sparked the lawsuit was Adams’ $215 million cuts to schools. This number has been a moving target. The cuts were closer to $373 million, according to City Council and City Comptroller Brad Lander, who said the city had enough stimulus money from last year to cover the cuts.

City hall argues that school budgets need to be cut to account for declining enrollment that has accelerated during the pandemic. The previous administration used federal funding to keep school budgets stable even though they lost students and the administration argues cuts are needed to avoid even bigger cuts in two years when federal funding dries up. exhaust.

But many parents, advocates and educators counter that the stimulus funding was designed to avoid further disruption to learning and that it doesn’t make sense to burp schools at a time when children have deep academic scars. and emotional.

It is possible that the city will eventually restore some funding to schools even if authorities are not compelled to do so by the courts. The town hall reportedly negotiated with the city council about restoring funding, but those talks did not result in an agreement.

Amy Zimmer is Chalkbeat New York’s bureau chief. Contact Amy at [email protected]

Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering New York’s public schools. Contact Alex at [email protected]

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