A group of New York City parents has sued Empire State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Commissioner of Education John King for withholding $250 million in state aid to the city's public schools this academic year.
The penalty was triggered by the failure of the city's Department of Education and the city's teachers' union, United Federation of Teachers, to reach an agreement on new evaluations by a Jan. 17 deadline imposed by the state.
There are 11 adult plaintiffs in Aristy-Farer v. State of New York, and several are also suing on behalf of their children who are students in Gotham public schools. They claim the lost money will deprive about 1 million students of vital resources, as well as their right under the state constitution to a sound basic education. Losing the $250 million, the equivalent of the increase in state aid the city was slated to receive for the 2012-13 academic year, would greatly damage public school students in a variety of ways, the plaintiffs say. They cite vacant teacher, counselor, and other school positions that won't be filled without the money, for example, along with cuts to after-school activities, test-preparation programs, and anti-bullying efforts.
"The $250 million increase appropriated for the New York City schools for the current school year provides resources that are vitally needed to provide the plaintiffs and the approximately one million other students attending the New York City public schools the opportunity for a sound basic education," the plaintiffs argued.
They also have concerns beyond this school year. If the UFT and the city don't reach a deal by Sept. 1, the new deadline for districts and unions to agree to new evaluations, the city could lose as much as $530 million in total funding from the state, a combination of scheduled state aid increases and funding for new initiatives, for the 2013-14 academic year. But even if, the plaintiffs say, the two sides come to an agreement before that deadline, Big Apple schools could still lose $250 million in state aid for 2013-14, plus additional money in subsequent school years. In short, they say the penalties are "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable."
Empire State lawmakers didn't craft this punishment just for the city. Since last March, New York state officials have pledged to withhold state aid increases for all districts that couldn't strike a deal with unions on the Annual Professional Performance Review for teachers. Last month, the state reported that 95 percent of districts, or 656 out of 691 districts, had their proposed evaluation deals approved by the department.
The New York Daily News reported that the state has declined to comment on the suit, which was filed Feb. 5. The point is that the UFT and city negotiators knew this punishment would drop down like a hammer on city school coffers, but still couldn't strike a deal. The lawsuit could be an effort for the city to win back some leverage from state government. Cuomo has said that he'll impose an evaluation deal if the two relevant parties can't sign off on one themselves. We'll see if that's the next hammer to drop.