The New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest union, filed suit Tuesday against the state government over reductions in aid given to school districts. It specifically is seeking the release of funds withheld in July, August and September.
The suit said that the 20 percent cut in state aid, which amounts to over $5 billion, in the 2020-2021 state budget was “unconstitutional, illegal, and a violation of the separation and distribution of powers under the New York State Constitution.”
It alleges that Gov. Cuomo’s budget created powers for the state budget director to “unilaterally withhold appropriated state aid to localities based on budget imbalances attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The suit points out that the state budget director, Robert F. Mujica, is an unelected appointee of the executive branch and has “no political accountability to the people of this state.”
The creation of this authority to the budget director violated the state constitution’s budgetary process and was an unconstitutional delegation of power, the suit said.
NYSUT represents approximately 600,000 teachers and school professionals. It is listed as the plaintiff in the suit along with a few other teachers unions from around the state including the Yonkers Federation of Teachers and Schenectady Federation of Teachers. Among the defendants listed are Cuomo, The New York State Division of the Budget and Mujica.
However,the state Division of the Budget said Friday that the suit is incorrect in its allegations of cuts to school aid.
“The frivolous, uninformed NYSUT lawsuit is just wrong: there has not been cuts to school aid and only one percent of annual school aid has been temporarily withheld,” a spokesman for the budget division said in an email to Blank Slate Media. He went on to say that September payments are being made in full but in the absence of federal aid, district needs will have to be taken into account for necessary actions.
“We are looking into at least November to have as much clarity as possible before, if necessary, undertaking a permanent gap-closing process, at which point all options would be on the table to limit the impacts of a federal failure to act and offset the state’s $62 billion, four-year revenue loss,” spokesman said.
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said school districts cannot wait for the federal government to provide aid to public schools.
“Time is up. With the loss of the state funding driving cuts at the local level in districts around the state, we can’t just keep waiting for action at the federal level to fund our schools,” Pallotta said.
The NYSUT points out that the state has about $7 billion in reserve and settlement funds to avoid cuts such as these and advocated for taxes on the ultra-wealthy and additional federal aid.
In a press release from the NYSUT, it said that school districts across the state are “considering or making staffing cuts that only serve to reduce student access to academic and other essential services.” It points to school districts in Albany, Schenectady and Syracuse where hundreds have been laid off and New York City where officials threatened to lay off nine thousand employees last month.
In recent months, as the federal government has clashed on political lines over a new relief bill for localities, Cuomo has said the state needs more federal aid to avert large cuts to public services.