Council scrambles to stop education cuts

Education advocates, public school teachers and parents have filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that New York lawmakers improperly approved the controversial education budget.

The suit, filed on July 17 with the New York Supreme Court, alleges that DOE Chancellor David Banks improperly utilized an emergency declaration to circumnavigate public hearings and failed to provide sufficient evidence about the size of the cuts.

The New York City Council voted for the budget on June 13, ten days before the Panel for Education Policy—the governing body for the Department of Education—voted on June 23. The lawsuit seeks to place an injunction on the current budget allowing for a revote on the budget in August.

“In at least twelve out of the past thirteen years, since at least June 2, 2010, several different New York City Schools Chancellors have invoked a similar ‘emergency’ using the same boilerplate language in order to immediately adopt a budget prior to a vote of the City Board (Panel for Education Policy) and prior to the City Council vote,” the complaint reads.

A large part of the city’s education budget is determined by the Fair Student Funding formula, which allocates resources based off of enrollments and disenrollments. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio prevented cuts to schools over the last two years by utilizing federal funds to cover the fluctuations in enrollments.

Overall 1,100 schools are expected to receive cuts from their budget totalling to $469 million, while 354 schools will be receiving increases to their budget, according to an analysis by the Comptroller’s office.

Over the last two years, enrollments in NYC public school have dropped by 80,000. Public school enrollments are expected to drop by 30,000 more students this fall, according to data shared with the New York Post.

Plaintiffs include Sarah Brooks, a special education teacher at P.S. 169 in Sunset Park, Melanie Kottler, a parent with a rising 2nd grader at P.S. 169, Tamara Tucker, a parent of two children at P.S. 125 in Harlem, and Paul Trust, a music teacher at P.S. 39 in Park Slope, where the music education program is under the chopping block.

“I have students who have gone on to the finfest conservatories and those who have formed the loudest of rock bands. All this will go away with these budget cuts,” Trust said in a statement. “I can only hope that this will not be the last year I am able to continue to serve the school community I love.”

On Monday July 18, a day after the suit was filed, members of the New York City Council rallied outside the Department of Education, to protest the cuts with advocates despite a number of the councilmembers previously voting for the budget.

“As more information was released, it became clear that the cuts to school funding were far more overreaching than originally communicated,” Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez, who voted for the budget, said in a statement. “I take responsibility for my vote, and demand the Mayor and the Chancellor also take responsibility for the thousands of students whose education will be diminished by these funding cut, by fully restoring education funding before August 1st in a moment when we need it most.”

“Principals in my district have repeatedly shared that in FY22, COVID stimulus funds enabled them to fully fund academic intervention programs, support for English Language Learners, and music and arts programs for the first time,” Councilwoman Shahana Hanif said in a statement. “These programs are not superfluous, but essential to student’s holistic development.

M.S. 839 Teacher Frank Marino, whose school was slated to lose $226,557 after a 1.66 percent drop in enrollment, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star last month.

“It’s always the schools [getting cut], we should be at this point, as teachers and students and families demanding more. And yet again, we’re here on the defensive, fighting for the bare minimum fighting for our school to have an art program,” Marino said.

Members at the rally suggested that Mayor Adams could utilize reserve funds to cover the cuts made to the budget.

“Since day one, the Adams administration has been committed to uplifting students throughout the five boroughs. As was reflected during the budget process, there are more city funds in DOE’s FY23 budget than last fiscal year,” City Hall spokesperson Jonah Allon told The Brooklyn Downtown Star. “While enrollment in public schools dropped, the city has maintained the unprecedented commitment to keep every school from every zip code at 100 percent of Fair Student Funding.”

Pol Position: Council Members ‘Punished’ for voting against the budget

The New York City Council passed the $101 billion spending plan on June 10, following the nearly unanimous decision by its membership, which voted 44-6 in favor of the budget.

But, according to City & State, six of the members who voted against it were treated with a nasty surprise.

The six ‘nay’-saying members—Tiffany Cabán, Sandy Nurse, Alexa Avilés, Chi Ossé, Charles Barron, and Kristin Richardson Jordan—were not credited for projects they supported and received on average less for organizations they supported than the members who voted yes.

The Council Members who voted against the proposed spending plan were initially surprised that they had been left out of the $41.6 million discretionary funds, known as the “Speaker’s Initiative to Address Citywide Needs,” allowing them to allocate additional funding towards specific projects and causes.

However, it was later revealed that several of the council members did in fact receive money from the discretionary fund for their projects, but their names were simply not listed on the budget document next to projects they supported.

Based on initial reports, Cabán said that she planned to designate $150,000 in funding for the Variety Boys and Girls Club, which provides after-school programming for approximately 4,000 children in Western Queens. However, it appeared they would no longer receive it.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter, calling the potential cut in discretionary funding “punishment” for Council Members opposed to the budget because of cuts in education, while increasing spending on police and incarceration.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “To punish a council member for objecting to cuts in education and housing, NYC leaders are defunding a local Boys & Girls Club as ‘punishment.’”

Speaker Adrienne Adams replied, telling Politico that the allocation loss for the Variety Boys & Girls Club was an “oversight” that would be rectified.

Costa Constantinides, former City Council Member and chief executive of Variety Boys & Girls Club in Queens, later told The New York Times that while he had hoped that his organization would receive $150,000 from the budget, he was confident that Adams would sort out the issue.

“That would have been a really harsh cut if that were to stand,” Constantinides said. “I think we are all working together to find a great resolution.”

In the interim, thanks in part to Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to help restore funding to the program, the Variety Boys and Girls Club continues its efforts to raise money to help serve the children in Queens.

Pol Position: New York City Budget Breakdown

Late on Monday night, the City Council voted 44-6 for this year’s $101 billion budget.
Several progressive members of the caucus—-including Chi Osé, Tiffany Cabán, Sandy Nurse, Charles Barron and more—-voted against the legislation for either giving too much money to the NYPD or not spending enough on issues such as housing or sanitation.

One of the biggest snafus in this years budget process was the contention between the city council and the mayor’s proposed $215 million cut in education spending. The $215 million in cuts revert to pre-pandemic policies of reallocating resources based off on enrollment. Recent figures show that up to 120,000 students have left the public school system over the last five years.
The cuts come off the heels of new class size legislation from Albany. Critics of the cuts say the decreased funding will make the class size mandate harder to actualize.
Even more progressive members who voted for the budget expressed dismay with the budget cuts.
“But this budget also fell short in serious ways, and we will need to spend the next few months fighting like hell to address its deficiencies on housing and especially education,” Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Lincoln Restler, said in a statement.

Green spaces
The budget prioritizes green and clean spaces in the city, despite Parks not attaining one percent of the budget as Mayor Adams stumped on during the campaign trail.
A total of $44.1 million is in the pipeline for Parks Department maintenance and summer workforce, as well as $3.5 million in funding for organic drop-off sites, $2.6 million for “green thumb” gardens, $2.5 million for forest management, and $2 million for tree stump removal.
An investment in cleaner streets through the restoration of $18.5 million in sanitation cuts will also mean more frequent trash pick-up and cleanings.
“With huge funding increases to the Department of Sanitation and Parks Department, our neighborhoods will be able to breathe a little easier,” Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez said in a statement.

This year’s budget brings a $5.5 million operating budget for the NYPD, with the Council touting “fiscal responsibility” by curbing the growth of wasteful spending on the criminal justice system.
The budget brings some transparency to the fiscal operations of the NYPD, by establishing 18 new units of appropriation, or the purpose for what funds are doled out to which agency, for the first time in Council history.
The Council also got rid of a proposal that would have increased the headcount at the Department of Correction by 578 positions. Nevertheless, some members of the Council were still upset with “bloated levels” of funding for policing.
“Without moving away from violent, oppressive systems, we are undermining the very investments I am so glad we managed to include in this budget, and ensuring that their potential positive impacts are nowhere near as substantial as they could and should be,” said Councilmember Tiffany Cabán.

This year’s budget set a record $8.3 billion in reserve funds—-an important step as financial analysts have warned of a looming recession. Specifically, Mayor Adams said at Friday’s budget announcement that he was adding $750 million to the Rainy Day Fund, $750 million to retired health benefits trust, and $500 million to the general reserve. Adams also increased the labor reserves by $1.25 million, amid upcoming union negotiations and rising inflation.
Comptroller Brad Lander said, in a statement, that while the reserves were a substantial amount they still fell short of his office’s recommended $1.8 billion.
“Going forward, the City should adopt a set formula to guarantee annual deposits and establish rules for withdrawals to guard against devastating cuts in a potential recession, which could be on the horizon sooner than we would hope,” Lander said in a statement.

City Spending Money We Don’t Have

You don’t need a degree in economics to understand the common sense principle that you can’t spend more money than you have.Yet year after year, our City Council and mayor are in a race to outspend prior fiscal years.
The most recent budget proposed by the mayor is well over $98 billion and fails to take into account the money from the federal government , without which the city and state would be reeling in bankruptcy. Instead of proposing a lean and responsible budget, the mayor is driving the city into further debt.
The city’s out of control taxation, fines and fees is causing a population shift away from New York City to states like Florida and Texas. People who move to Florida can save up to 33% of their income taxes.
Our elected officials tax the heck out of the rich and big corporations, failing to understand that they can easily leave and cause decreasing revenue collections as a result of their departure. We saw this in Long Island City when Amazon was chased out by our elected officials, devastating collateral businesses and causing tremendous job loss and opportunities.
Supporting businesses and companies meant creating good-paying jobs and opportunities. Today’s Democrats believe that the rich are evil and that corporations are demonic.
More pernicious is the real truth. The budget gets bigger and bigger on the backs of the working class. Our elected officials pander to special interests and lobbyists for donations and endorsements.

John J. Ciafone is a lawyer and Democratic candidate for City Council in northwest Queens.

Need for Reconciliation Sign of a Bad Bill

“Budget Reconciliation” may be the most popular phrase on Capitol Hill right now. This special legislative process allows certain bills to be passed in the Senate with a simple majority so long as they impact the budget.
With the Senate evenly divided – and the vice president holding the tie-breaking vote – Democrats used budget reconciliation to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Some lawmakers now suggest they’ll also try to use the budget process to overhaul the prescription drug market, as well. They plan to do this by reviving a bill passed by the House – but not the Senate – back in 2019, known as H.R. 3.
Here’s the thing about reconciliation, though: The fact that Democrats even need it is a sign of a bad bill. Under the normal process, bills need at least 60 Senate votes to become law. With the current congressional makeup, that would mean all the Senate Democrats plus at least 10 Republicans.
Such a split would compel the kind of debate and compromise that often leads to better laws. Through budget reconciliation, though, the party in power can pass occasional budget-related legislation without negotiation.
H.R. 3 is a bad bill. While it would reduce Medicare spending on prescription drugs by $456 billion over ten years, those savings would come at a steep price.
Under H.R. 3, Medicare would cap the price of 250 common medications at an amount pegged to the average price in other developed nations.
We all want lower costs, obviously, but independent experts confirm that would mean fewer new medicines.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would lead to 38 fewer new drugs coming to market over the next two decades.
The consideration of this measure is shocking considering the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging. We stand at a point in human history where all of our creativity and ingenuity and innovation have been brought to bear on a virus that has locked us inside, in many cases alone and without hope.
We’ve incurred great suffering and pain – economic and health – and we’ve likely damaged the future of many, many children, mostly black and brown, who cannot escape the cold clutches of government closures.
And what have we learned? Science wins. Human investment in research and partnerships paid off in that multiple vaccines were developed in record time.
The simple fact is our political leaders haven’t come clean with Americans. We can impose price controls on drugs and that will lower government spending, at least in the short-term. But we will also have less hope in return.
If you ask Speaker Nancy Pelosi, we can have our cake and eat it too: price controls without downside. Americans know the truth is more complicated.
There are plenty of ways to reduce what patients spend on drugs without stalling medical progress that could win bipartisan support. The whole purpose of Congressional debate is to arrive at the wisest and most effective policy.
Instead of an ill-conceived law rammed through without debate, American patients deserve a solution that works for the long term. Will Democrats deliver?

Joel White is president of the Council for Affordable Health Coverage, a coalition of organizations seeking to lower the cost of health care for all Americans.

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