In a jaw-dropping usurpation of the city’s spending authority, a Manhattan judge, Lyle Frank, on Friday threw out the Department of Education’s budget.
It’s got to be the worst intervention since another judge many years back ordered homeless shelter be provided for anyone who asks. As a result of that one, a corrupt, billion-dollar shelter industry rose up while an end to homelessness is nowhere in sight.
Frank’s ruling sets a horrible precedent and will lead to a significant waste of money, but perhaps worst of all, it further erodes what little accountability remains in our school system.
In his ruling for the plaintiffs (two teachers and two parents), Frank found the city had committed a technical violation by enacting an education budget without approval from the DOE’s oversight board, the Panel for Education Policy, even though Chancellor David Banks issued an emergency declaration that legally lets him bypass that step.
The judge even admitted Banks’ declaration wasn’t unusual but insisted it lacked a “good reason.”
“If it’s called an emergency declaration, it really should be an emergency,” he snarked. Not that that’s ever been the standard in New York.
Frank would have us believe his judgment is better than the mayor’s, schools chancellor’s and City Council’s. Consider that when Banks declared the emergency, membership on the PEP hadn’t even been fully settled, and the impact of thousands of kids who fled the school system during the pandemic was still being assessed.
Yet for me, as a public-school parent of two young boys, the most distressing part of Frank’s decision is what it says about accountability, especially when it comes to the education of New York’s kids.
Our elected mayor and his appointed schools chancellor came into office pledging to hold the entire school system accountable. On the day Banks was introduced as chancellor, my heart swelled with optimism when he called it “outrageous” and “a betrayal” that “any agency” should have a $38 billion annual budget and “65% of black and brown children who never achieve proficiency.” What chancellor has ever said such a thing? The cry is always for more money.
Banks knows the system’s flawed and not because of insufficient funding. He was intent on holding DOE bureaucrats, principals and teachers accountable. Frank upended that by taking the side of the teachers union and its allies.
The $215 million in DOE “cuts” that triggered the court action was minuscule in light of the system’s gargantuan budget. But to the powerful United Federation of Teachers, it was a gauntlet thrown down by an administration looking to hold Gotham’s educational-industrial complex (the real drivers of crime in our city) accountable.
When former Gov. Andrew Cuomo about a decade ago introduced new measures, including standardized-test scores, to hold teachers accountable, suddenly standardized testing was a racist anathema. An opt-out movement was born overnight. Teachers, parents and students opted out of the tests, and Cuomo eventually caved, ending any attempt at holding teachers accountable for poor performance.
Today, too, Regents exams are on the chopping-block because it’s considered discriminatory to withhold a high-school diploma simply because students can’t demonstrate academic competency. Make no mistake: This is all to protect subpar teachers.
Yet it’s beyond frustrating that we can’t hold teachers and principals accountable for students who are unable to read, write and do math. Nor, it seems, can we hold schools accountable even when they lose students.
And forget about an accountable judiciary; that was lost decades ago. We need only look at Judge Frank’s ruling and today’s revolving-door justice system to see that truth.
We’re now saddled with a system that holds everyone and every institution harmless, no matter one’s level of responsibility. Except, of course, kids and taxpayers, who pay the price in the end.
The public must continue funding (often failing) schools as though they still have a million-plus students. And when the federal cash that’ll be used to restore the DOE cuts is gone, they’ll raise our taxes to keep the gravy train running.
Thank goodness Adams is appealing Frank’s ruling. He should also use his bully pulpit to expose the UFT and get real public-school parents and taxpayers on his side. Repeatedly pouring more money into an unaccountable system and expecting anything better than the lousy schools we have now is, as they say, the definition of insanity.