Manhattan Judge Allows NYC Council to Revote on Education Budget
By: Ilana Siyance
On Friday, a state Supreme Court judge in Manhattan ruled that the city council can vote again on the controversial $36.8 billion Department of Education budget. In June, during negotiations with Mayor Adams administration, members of the council approved the 2023 budget, which included at least $215 million in cuts for school funding. Since then, multiple progressive members of the New York City council admitted they were wrong to have voted yes. Rallies and protests ensued, with many parents, teachers and advocates demanding a reversal to the decision.
As reported by Crain’s NY, a lawsuit was brought forth by four teachers and parents, who sued to freeze the $215 million education cuts and restore the money before the start of the school year. Judge Lyle Frank decided that the Education Department violated procedure by issuing an emergency declaration and bypassing oversight hearings and votes of the city Board of Education. “The vote of the New York City Council on the [fiscal year 2023] budget should have occurred after the Panel for Education Policy held its own vote on the budget—which it did not,” Frank wrote in his decision. The judge added that the court could not decide how much of the funds should be re-allotted to education. The judge’s decision for a revote applies only to the education budget, and does not apply to the entire $101 billion city budget, which took effect July 1. For now, the judge reverted spending appropriations for education to fiscal year 2022 levels until a re-vote takes place. Spending levels were $500 million higher in fiscal year 2022, as per the council speaker’s office.
On Friday morning, the Education department filed an intention to appeal, seeking a stay of Frank’s order from the appellate division. If the court doesn’t grant a stay, then the City Council can proceed with the re-vote, as per Laura Barbieri, attorney for the plaintiffs. As per Crain’s, the education department and Mayor Eric Adam’s office both argued that reversing the budget cuts after the fact would leave a mess. The mayor’s office said the last minute change would “wreak havoc” on the nation’s largest school system. As per court affidavits by the Education Department, schools are already working with the new budget allocations, with contracts and teachers already in the works, and making changes now could delay school opening. “Freezing or altering budgets now could create a domino effect, with schools attempting to reverse mutually agreed-to transfers and hires of teachers and other staff,” assistant corporation counsel Jeffrey Dantowitz said in a July 27 affidavit. “The ripple effect of reversing one hiring decision could impact multiple staffs and schools.”
Mayor Adams commented, stressing his commitment to opening schools on time. “Whatever that ruling is, I’m going to follow. We’re going to find out what the judge states, and we’re going to move forward,” the mayor said during an Aug. 4 press conference. “We’re going to do everything we must to make sure our schools are open.”
It’s not even clear yet, how a re-vote would play out. “We must put all options on the table,” said Councilman Shekar Krishnan of Queens. “But it begins with knowing an honest accounting from the DOE on how much money has been cut from our schools.”
Another bit of uncertainty includes how the spending cuts will be reversed without adding funding or altering the rest of the budget. One suggestion would be to use part of the $4 billion in federal emergency funds.