EDITORIAL: Lawsuit not the solution to education cuts

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

They didn’t need to file a lawsuit against the governor yesterday.

They needed to file a complaint several months ago with their elected state legislators, who hid behind the covid crisis and abdicated their responsibility over the state budget to give the governor unprecedented powers for withholding funds.

They needed to be using their extensive financial and political clout to lobby our congressional delegation and others to provide financial support for state budgets devastated by the economic conditions.

If teachers in the state are upset over projected budget cuts to education, they’ve got no one to blame but themselves for waiting so long to take action and for targeting the wrong culprits.

The state’s largest teachers union, backed by local teachers, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Division of Budget, claiming the projected $5 billion in aid they expect to be withheld from schools as a result of pending budget deficits is unconstitutional.

They claim the governor is unconstitutionally exercising powers to withhold budget payments that were granted to him by the Legislature, and therefore he has no authority to cut the school budgets in order to balance the budget.

The governor is using the threat of cuts to school funding to coerce the federal government into providing an aid package to states to help them offset revenue losses related to the economic shutdowns.

So far, no such aid has come from Congress and the president, and that’s got teachers fearful that the cuts will be initiated, potentially devastating schools, particularly the poorest districts.

The problem here isn’t Cuomo exercising too much power. It’s the Legislature giving it to him, and allowing him to keep it far beyond when he needed it.

If teachers want to make a difference in averting cutbacks, they can demand that lawmakers — all of whom are up for re-election this year, by the way — find places in the state budget to cut so as to offset any cuts to school aid. How about making some suggestions of their own?

They also could show what steps they are willing to take to trim local school budgets in a way that doesn’t result in mass layoffs and program cuts.

New York spends 91% more than the national average on education, over $24,000 per student.

What have the teachers unions been doing to help rein in school spending, and what could they be doing now?

Something will have to be done to close the state budget deficit, and education is a likely target unless other sources of revenue or cut are found.

Suing the governor over using his power isn’t going to change the reality of a situation that’s been clear for months.

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