A state judge says he intends to issue a ruling vacating the Department of Education’s $38 billion budget because the mayor and City Council didn’t follow the proper procedure in passing it.
Judge Lyle Frank says his order — which he plans to hand down Friday — would nullify the current budget, revert the DOE to the previous fiscal year’s budget, and give the City Council a chance to vote on this year’s budget again, if council members so choose.
That would essentially give the City Council a do-over on a vote some members have said they now regret because the budget passed in June contained deep cuts to school funding due to lower enrollment.
“They can own that and do what they need to do to fix these mistakes,” said Tamara Tucker, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Frank’s decision. “And this may give them a chance to fix the budgets in a way that would restore the cuts that have been made directly to school budgets.”
Tucker says her children’s school, P.S. 125 in Manhattan, stands to lose as much as $800,000.
“There will be no art, no music, no outside enrichment. There is a struggle to get enough paraprofessionals for the students who have mandated IEPs,” Tucker said.
But the lawsuit is not actually focused on the cuts themselves. Instead, the plaintiffs argue the city violated state law by failing to having a hearing on the education portions of the budget and a vote from the Panel for Educational Policy before the City Council passed the overall city budget.
And the judge seemed inclined to agree. While the city issued an emergency declaration to skip the panel vote, Frank said there didn’t seem to be a good reason for it.
“It’s called an emergency declaration. It really should be an emergency,” Frank said Thursday.
Frank said he wanted to craft his ruling so that it would nullify the Education Department budget, but not the entire city budget. The city’s attorney argued that wasn’t possible, but attorneys for the plaintiffs disagree.
“There’s a specific law about the education budget. It’s not in the city budget law. It’s in the education law,” plaintiffs attorney Arthur Schwartz said.
Frank asked both sides to offer up their suggested language for an order that would help him not to “overdo it.” He says he intends to issue that order by the end of the day Friday.
"The judge will rule and whatever that ruling is, I will follow," Mayor Eric Adams said at an unrelated press conference Thursday. "We're going to do everything we must do to keep our schools open."
I think the big question I have is -- logistically, how does this work? How does the DOE spend last year's amount of money if it was allocated less money this year? Where does the money come from to make that happen? Anyone know?— Jillian Jorgensen (@Jill_Jorgensen) August 4, 2022
In a statement, schools Chancellor David Banks said the city had already moved to grant $150 million in additional funding to schools.
"As we await clarity about how the court’s ultimate decision impacts our preparation for reopening this September, we took action in response to the expressed needs of our schools and families," Banks said. "On Tuesday, we granted immediate flexibility on $100 million in academic recovery funds and expedited the release of over $50 million in appeal funds to be used to retain teachers. We remain laser focused on ensuring our school communities have everything they need to safely reopen, and await a quick resolution of this case.”