injunction function

In court, a debate over how much $250M matters to city schools

The outcome in the lawsuit to reclaim lost state aid for New York City schools will hinge largely on the argument of what scale of educational impact that sum could have on students.

If New York County Supreme Court Judge Manuel Mendez sides with attorney Michael Rebell, who is suing the state, he’ll agree that the lack of roughly $250 million will cause “irreparable harm” to students. If he sides with lawyers representing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Education Commissioner John King, he’ll concur that the total is just a fraction of what the city spends annually on education, and therefore won’t do much more than put a dent in school budgets.

Rebell filed the lawsuit earlier this month after Cuomo said he would not seek to extend a deadline that awarded increased state aid only to districts that agreed to a teacher evaluation system. New York City was one of six districts that did not meet the deadline, which Cuomo signed into law last year to force districts and their unions to negotiate the controversial plans.

The two sides were in court today for the first time arguing over Rebell’s request for Mendez to issue an preliminary injunction, an early court order that requires the defendant to either proceed or cease with a specific action. In today’s case, the state is planning to withdraw the funds and Rebell wants Mendez to prevent the state from taking back the money while he is considering the case.

To win an injunction, Rebell needs to prove some key points. First, he has to show that the state aid cut is irreparably harmful to affected schools and students while the lawsuit is pending. Second, he needs to prove a high likelihood of ultimately winning the case.

In response to the sudden funding gap, the Department of Education is planning midyear cuts for March 1, Rebell said, making an injunction especially urgent. After the hearing, Rebell said he couldn’t predict where, specifically, irreparable harm would take place.

“We don’t know that yet,” Rebell said. “You got a huge hit on the whole city so it’s going to fall out on these kids. Exactly how? Who knows, but it’s going to be devastating.”

Rebell said he left out specific evidence of harm because he believed he had a good shot at winning the case. Previous court cases firmly established that state aid disbursements were constitutionally necessary for a student to receive a “sound basic education,” he said.

Cuomo’s lawyers argued today that increased state aid — they used a larger figure, $260 million — didn’t amount to much compared to the $7.9 billion that the city received from the state this year. They said that many cuts that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott have publicly forecast would not violate a student’s right to a “sound basic education.”

Rebell called the argument tenuous, saying that it was Cuomo who believed the amount was significant enough to dangle as an incentive for New York City and other districts to submit evaluation plans.

Arguing for the state, Assistant Attorney General Steven Schulman also said that harm from the lost aid was a relative drop in the bucket compared to what would happen if the state was unable to enforce the teacher evaluation law. Without new teacher evaluations, he said, the state would likely not be able to retain much of its $696 million Race to the Top grant. He also argued that the quality of education would suffer.

“There is no dispute here that annual performance reviews will improve education for students,” Schulman’s brief says.

In court, he said, the “grant is jeopardized by New York City’s failure to adopt a performance evaluation program.”

Mendez did not issue a ruling but told both side he would rule shortly.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.