What’s happening: New York State United Teachers says if another round of education funding due later this month is reduced, it will challenge the cutbacks as a violation of the state constitution’s guarantee that every student be offered a “sound basic education.”
The decision to impose across-the-board reductions, rather than tailor them by need, has already had a deleterious effect on a number of school districts that serve predominantly low-income families and students of color and rely more heavily on state aid than more-affluent districts with ample property tax bases.
“No school district or student is immune to the adverse impacts of a 20 percent cut to state education aid,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement. “But what makes this all the more egregious is the disproportionate impact that cuts have on our neediest schoolchildren.”
Background: A number of school districts put off their plans to hold a mix of in-person and remote instruction and instead will have to be entirely online to start the year as a result of not receiving money they were anticipating. Others have put hundreds of employees on the chopping block if the money doesn’t begin flowing again soon.
“In the absence of the federal government finally doing what’s right, the state needs to step in and prevent the decimation of our public education system at a time when needs are higher than ever before,” Pallotta said.
NYSUT is one of a constellation of groups that have embraced higher taxes on the wealthy as a way to raise money for schools and solidify the state’s fiscal situation, a solution that has largely been rebuffed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, though he did say it may be part of the state’s response if federal negotiations fall through.
The lay of the land: New York’s per-pupil education spending in recent years has been nearly twice the national average, and a report Tuesday from the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy indicated that even with a 20-percent reduction, the state would still outpace nearly all of the country — a fact that could make the union’s argument that the cuts effectively gut public education a trickier proposition in court.
“None of this is to say that districts can or will easily navigate a 20 percent reduction in state appropriations to schools,” the Empire Center states. “However, amidst a dire fiscal outlook facing New York, decision makers can look home and abroad for solutions to do substantially more with less.”
Courts have been deferential to governors and public health officials who have taken extraordinary measures as they grapple with the ongoing pandemic.
If NYSUT makes good on its threat to sue, it would join a growing number of lawsuits challenging recent decisions relating to school this fall. A handful of New York City teachers filed suit last week to be allowed to work from home due to health concerns, and the teachers union in Buffalo recently lost a bid to prevent them from having to return to school buildings while students are learning remotely.
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