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Judge could allow NYC Council to revote on education budget

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A judge has said the city did not follow proper rules when it approved the budget, paving the way for potentially restoring hundreds of millions in cuts to schools.

New York City did not follow the proper procedure when approving the roughly $31 billion budget for the education department, a Manhattan judge said Thursday, potentially setting up the City Council to revote on funding for the nation’s largest public school system.

While an official court order is not expected to be issued until Friday, Judge Lyle Frank indicated that he will side with the two teachers and two parents who filed a lawsuit last month, which sought to invalidate the education department budget and force the City Council to take another vote.

The lawsuit claimed the city did not follow the proper protocols before the council voted on the final budget, which included hundreds of millions in cuts to city schools. Frank agreed, arguing the city didn’t have a good reason when it used an “emergency declaration” in May to bypass the rules set out in state education law.

“The emergency declaration changes the law — you really should have a good reason,” Frank said. “It really should be because of COVID, because of something.”

Thursday’s hearing was the latest in a stunning pushback against Mayor Eric Adams’ $215 million cut to city schools based on declining enrollment projections. City Comptroller Brad Lander estimated the cuts were closer to $370 million. City schools have lost about 9.5% of K-12 students since the pandemic started and are expected to lose about 30,000 more students this upcoming school year.

Though the City Council overwhelmingly approved the budget, many council members apologized for their vote after public outcry and are pushing the Adams administration to restore those dollars. The administration is phasing in the cuts over two years, using some stimulus dollars to soften the blow, and argues that cuts are necessary now in order to avoid even sharper slashes if enrollment continues to fall.

The lawsuit seeks to fund schools at last year’s levels until the City Council votes again. That would mean funding boosts for 77% of schools but cuts for the rest, according to an analysis from the comptroller’s office.

The judge wants to suspend only the education department portion of the budget, rather than the city’s entire budget. He suggested that he wants to allow city lawmakers to decide the next steps.

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