A state court judge at a hearing this morning will consider whether to interfere with New York City authority over its own budget by ordering a preliminary injunction that ices a portion of Gotham’s recently enacted FY 23 city budget. In issuing a temporary restraining order (TRO) last week, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lyle Frank forestalled $215 million in education spending reductions scheduled to occur under the $101.1 billion budget agreement between Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council, which adopted the measure in a 44-6 vote on June 13.
In lieu of the cuts, the Court decreed that the education funding levels for all city schools this Fall temporarily remain at the levels set under last year’s budget.
The reductions in dispute represent less than one percent of the city’s total education spending. They are derived from a formula-driven, enrollment-based calculation. Gotham’s public-school student population has fallen at least eight percent since the pandemic’s onset — and the city projects a further decline this fall. The past few budget cycles, city schools that lost students were spared the reductions the city’s Fair Student Funding formula would otherwise yield. With no enrollment reversal in sight, Mayor Adams put attenuated cuts in his February blueprint and continued advocating for them in the ensuing months.
The proposed cuts were a paramount issue in the weeks and days preceding the budget vote, with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents Gotham educators, publicizing specific projections of the funding reductions that would occur at individual city schools.
Nevertheless, Adams prevailed upon the Council to swallow cuts within a final budget package that spent more overall than his original offer.
In the aftermath, progressive Council members began to express voter’s remorse. On July 18, in an act of self-flagellation, several members publicly expressed great regret for voting in favor of the budget, due to the education funding cuts.
Shortly thereafter, Justice Frank’s TRO was handed down, in response to a plea from a small group of plaintiffs petitioning on behalf of parents and teachers.
The slim legal reed the TRO relies on is a provision within Section 2590(g) of the state Education Law requiring the City’s Panel for Education Policy (PEP), i.e., the city board of education, to adopt the Education Department’s estimated budget before it goes to the City Council. The ministerial nature of the PEP vote is best evidenced by the fact that it is routinely dispensed with; in seven of the past nine prior budget cycles, the PEP failed to approve the education budget in advance of the Council vote. In each instance, the Education Chancellor issued an emergency declaration waiving its necessity. He did so again this year.
Where were the challenges to the city education budget during all those prior years of PEP noncompliance? There were none, in part because there’s nothing in law attaching any consequences to the PEP’s failure to bless the education proposal.
For better or worse, few of the numerous budget process procedural requirements written into state law carry any sort of penalty for noncompliance. It’s not surprising then, that they aren’t always followed to the letter.
That shouldn’t be a pretext for judges to rewrite budgets adopted by elected representatives.