ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has reacted to reductions in the school aid budget by filing a lawsuit against the state. The teachers are seeking the release of money withheld in July, August, and September and an injunction against future withholding of or delays in school funding payments.

Schools across New York are facing a 20% reduction in state aid, which some reports say is hitting higher need districts the hardest.

The union claims continued withholding of the funding “would cause further issues with significant education-related payments,” including a $2.5 billion payment due at the end of September.

Schools across the region face cutting staff to make up the shortfall, with Albany potentially cutting 200 jobs and Schenectady laying off 76 staff. On cuts, withholding, and delays to school funding, New York State Division of the Budget Press Officer Freeman Klopott has signaled that his office would take need into account:

“The failure of the Federal government to act has forced the State to temporarily withhold less than 1% of school funding. We will work with our partners in government to address any remaining gaps in federal assistance and, in the absence of Federal funding, any future aid withholdings will take school district need into consideration.”

Freeman Klopott
Budget Division

In the lawsuit, NYSUT claims the state can avoid the cuts by drawing on $7 billion in reserves and settlement funds.

“Our students and families deserve better than staffing and program cuts just as we begin a new school year with unprecedented challenges.

A high-quality education is a vital service that’s central to helping communities thrive. It’s about time it was funded like one.”

Andy Pallotta
NYSUT President

The union also has advocated for other solutions to help fund public education, including taxes on the ultra-wealthy and additional federal stimulus funding.

However, federal funding may still be a long way away, with a second stimulus package still stalling in the house. NYSUT President, Andy Pallotta, said: “We can’t just keep waiting for action at the federal level to fund our schools.”

The lawsuit isn’t the first action teachers have taken against the cuts. On September 12, teachers took to the streets alongside parents and students to protest the measures.

The full lawsuit can be viewed below.

Pallotta said the proposed 20% cuts are driving devastating layoffs in districts across the state including here in the Capital Region. Additionally, he said the proposed cuts are disproportionately impacting high need, low wealth school districts that primarily depend on state funding. The Albany City School District already announced more than 220 layoffs and there have been 330 so far in the Schenectady City School District. 

On Wednesday, New York State Division of the Budget Director, Robert Mujica, told News10 that the state has not officially made any permanent cuts just yet. “We have not actually withheld 20% from any school district as of yet and we don’t plan to until we get a better sense as to where the federal assistance is,” said Mujica. 

According to the lawsuit, however, the state withheld and reduced payments to districts in July, August, and September. NYSUT referred News10 to section F of the lawsuit, pages 12 and 13, which references withholdings that have already taken place.

NYSUT board member and President of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, Juliet Benaquisto, told News10 that due to the uncertainty, many districts were forced to make these layoffs in advance. She said the Schenectady City School District saw the writing on the wall when they received word over the summer that Universal Pre-K funding would be reduced by 20% and the state aid payment in August was short some $600,000.

“This is me making an assumption, but they saw those two things happening and our district just felt like they had to make those cuts because they felt it was coming,” said Benaquisto.

Additionally, according to NYSUT, the state Division of Budget required the state Department of Education to notify districts of the potential for a minimum of a 20% reduction in funding.

NYSUT also providing News10 with the presentation from the state Education Department that was made at the Board of Regents meeting on Monday, which details the latest financial plan update. They said Slide 5 notes that to date, DOB has approved paying 80 percent of some pending state-funded and special-revenue-funded claims and that some of those payments remain on hold.