NYC school budget cuts are again moving forward – for now

Several days after a Manhattan judge ruled in favor of returning the education spending plan back to the City Council, a state appeals court has paused the decision until arguments are heard on Aug. 29

The Aug. 29 court date will come just a little over a week before the first day of school.

The Aug. 29 court date will come just a little over a week before the first day of school. Jim.henderson

For the time being, the New York City Department of Education is once again slated to move forward with its original budget – the latest chapter of the legal battle between city officials and the swell of advocates, teachers and families who’ve condemned funding cuts to city schools. 

A state appeals court issued a temporary pause Tuesday evening on a lower court’s ruling from late last week to vacate and reconsider the city’s spending plan for the DOE, essentially invalidating Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank’s decision to order the City Council and mayor’s office to pass a new schools budget until appeal arguments are heard on Aug. 29.

“We are pleased that the court has agreed with us that we are allowed to move forward with our current spending plans,” a spokesperson for New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “Schools will open, on time, in September and will have the resources they need to ensure our students thrive next month. We will continue to defend the city’s budget process.”

The Aug. 29 court date will come just a little over a week before the first day of school – further threatening to bolster uncertainty about individual school budgets as educators work to finalize their plans for the coming year. City officials have repeatedly criticized the lawsuit, arguing it has jeopardized schools’ ability to make those plans. The mayor’s office has defended the $215 million in cuts – which are actually closer to $373 million, according to city Comptroller Brad Lander – to schools by saying the allocation reflects dwindling student enrollment and is necessary to avoid a budget cliff when federal COVID-19 relief runs out in a few years.

The plaintiffs – a group of parents and educators who had won an unprecedented victory with the lower court’s ruling kicking part of the budget back to City Hall – plan to call on Adams and members of the City Council to immediately restore the cuts through a standard budget modification instead of waiting for the lawsuit’s resolution.

“That’s what should happen at this point. Nobody should be waiting for the resolution of this lawsuit, though I do believe we can win on appeal,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and an education advocate that played a key role in bringing the lawsuit forward. “Principals and parents and teachers deserve certainty now, but the city is delaying the ultimate resolution of this case.”

She said the city’s request to not hear arguments until the end of the month is deeply “irresponsible” and contradictory to their rhetoric that education advocates are the ones fueling uncertainty with school set to start in just a few weeks. 

Advocates plan to ramp up dialogue with the City Council, where they can expect cooperation and a warmer reception. After approving the city budget in mid-June, members of the council, including Speaker Adrienne Adams, have been highly critical of the process – responding to advocates and the teachers union’s outrage.

New York City Council Member Rita Joseph, head of the education committee, said negotiations with the mayor are “still ongoing” and that council members are “fighting tooth and nail” to ensure schools are fully funded.

Last week’s ruling in favor of returning the budget to the city for reevaluation hinged on the bureaucratic process that preceded the cuts, siding with plaintiffs who argue state law was violated when the council voted on the overall city budget without having the education budget first approved by the Panel for Education Policy. 

City lawyers filed a notice of appeal just a few hours later, arguing the lower court’s ruling “creates mass confusion” for principals and the department of education as they prepare for the coming school year and “throws a wrench” into planning that could “reverberate throughout the school year.”

"Schools are going to open on time with resources and services. We are not going to disrupt the school year,” Adams said during a press conference yesterday. “We need to be really clear on that … The lawyers are going to deal with the rest of this stuff.”