A court case that is challenging budget cuts at New York City public schools looks unlikely to be settled before students return to classes in less than two weeks.
Arguments are scheduled for Sept. 29. School begins Sept. 8.
The lawsuit marked an escalation in the fight over the budget cuts, which have riled school communities and prompted ongoing protests from parents.
Last month, a group of teachers and parents sued the city, arguing that the sequence leading up to the budget violated state law. A New York state Supreme Court judge sided with the plaintiffs and sent the education budget back to the mayor and City Council. Days later, an appellate court blocked that ruling. Now it seems increasingly likely that cuts will remain while the legal battle continues.
“The mayor is completely responsible for this case dragging on through the courts rather than heeding the demand by City Council to negotiate a budget modification,” said Laura Barbieri, the attorney representing the teachers and parents who sued the city over the cuts. “There is more than enough money in the budget to provide for the children of this city. The mayor’s refusal speaks volumes about how little he cares.”
In an emailed statement, City Hall spokesperson Amaris Cockfield reiterated the Adams administration stance that schools will have the funding they need for a successful year.
“We look forward to opening our schools next month with the resources they need to ensure our students thrive," she said. "We continue to engage with the Council and stakeholders to find ways to best support our school communities.”
As the court case continues, the City Council has been calling on the mayor to restore the money, and was negotiating with the Adams administration in July. But the momentum of those talks seems to have fizzled.
Sources in the City Council said there has been some communication between the two sides in recent weeks, but no deal is imminent. “It kind of feels like they’re running out the clock,” one of those sources said, requesting anonymity to speak freely.
Many schools are preparing to reopen with fewer instructors and reduced programs. Some have cut arts programs, after-school offerings, and social workers. Others have cut subject teachers and are planning for larger class sizes as a result.
Several principals, who did not want to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the press, said they had used all their available funds to pay for teachers but have nothing left over for supplies or substitutes – a particular challenge given that those who test positive for the coronavirus must stay home for five days.
Over the course of the summer, the city's education department granted additional money to some schools that argued their enrollment projections were too low and offered new flexibility in the use of federal funds so that they could be put toward teachers.
The Adams administration has argued that the cuts are necessary because the school system is serving fewer students than it did a few years ago. According to the Independent Budget Office, traditional public schools lost 83,000 students from 2019 to 2021, and the Adams administration has projected they will lose another 30,000 by this fall. While the city uses a per-pupil formula to fund schools, over the past two years, it has used stimulus dollars to keep funding flat despite the overall decrease in students.
Stimulus funds will eventually run out, and administration officials said schools need to start preparing now. Many parents and activists counter that there are still stimulus funds available and those could be used to keep schools whole.
On Monday, the City Council held a hearing on a resolution calling on the mayor to fully restore $469 million to schools.
“I’m here to speak as a mom about how these cuts are affecting the students in my daughter’s school,” Christianna Nelson, a parent at Arts & Letters 305 United in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said at the hearing. “It’s a slap in the face to the educators, students, and parents who have already suffered through two very difficult years.”