More than $200 million in cuts to the New York City public school budget are back in effect, at least temporarily, after a state appeals court on Tuesday put a hold on a lower court’s ruling requiring the city to redo the budget.
The appeal was the latest in a contentious back and forth over school funding that has pitted Mayor Eric Adams against the City Council and provoked rage among teachers and educators. The fighting has set the stage for a chaotic start to a school year that was supposed to be the first “normal” one after pandemic disruptions.
The Adams administration was “pleased” that the cuts — which the mayor has said were necessary because of falling student enrollment — could be reinstated, according to Amaris Cockfield, a City Hall spokeswoman. “We will continue to defend the city’s budget process,” she said.
The exact amount of the cuts has been in some dispute, with Brad Lander, the New York City comptroller, estimating that the cuts actually amount to more than $300 million. More than 1,200 city schools, or around two-thirds of the public schools in the city, will face cuts, according to an analysis by Chalkbeat, an education news site.
Many principals have objected to the budget cuts for months, arguing that they couldn’t come at a worse time. The 2022-2023 school year was supposed to be focused on recouping losses after the pace of learning slowed during the pandemic.
Instead, principals say the cuts are forcing them to slash teaching positions and enrichment programs they need to help students recover.
“School starts in a few weeks. Our students do not need a drawn-out court fight,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. “The answer is for the mayor to restore the cuts.”
The Adams administration proposed the cuts because the bulk of funding schools receive is tied to the number of students they enroll, a number that has been steadily declining. Around 120,000 families have left the school system over the past five years, the vast majority during the pandemic.
The previous mayor, Bill de Blasio, used federal stimulus funds to bolster budgets for schools with declining numbers. But the Adams administration decided against relying on federal money, which is temporary and will be gone by fiscal year 2025.
Teachers and parents have argued that families will continue to leave the public school system if schools lack enrichment programming or have large class sizes because teachers have been let go.
A number of teachers and parents sued the Education Department over the budget in July. They argued that the department made a procedural error when it allowed the Council to vote on the budget before the Panel for Education Policy, a governing body largely appointed by the mayor, held a public hearing on it and voted on it.
A Manhattan judge sided with the parents and teachers last week, and the city appealed that decision, arguing that tossing out the budget was “destabilizing” and would force the city to pretend that it was “still flush with federal pandemic relief, and that student enrollment remains at past levels.”
The case will be back in court on Aug. 29, the week before the school year begins.
Laura D. Barbieri, a lawyer for Advocates for Justice, who is representing the parents and teachers who sued the city, said the timing of the next hearing would “further delay the ‘chaos’ that the city repeatedly cited in its brief, and prevent principals, teachers and parents from knowing what their school budgets will look like.”