Academic journal article Education Next

Educational Providence: New York Courts Close One Door, Federal Money Opens Another

Academic journal article Education Next

Educational Providence: New York Courts Close One Door, Federal Money Opens Another

Article excerpt

In March 2010, to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's and Chancellor Joel Klein's chagrin, a New York State trial judge stopped the planned closure of 19 chronically failing schools in New York City. As a result, 19 demonstrably dreadful schools will remain open for at least another school year. Yet the case and its aftermath show that school districts can, with sufficient effort and creativity, partially maneuver around such judicially imposed obstacles.

Klein, who has sought to close under-performing schools as part of his effort to improve the lagging district, had announced that he would seek to both close the schools in December of 2009 and to recycle some of the facilities as charter schools. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) attempted to manufacture a political controversy over the closures by renting 50 buses to transport protestors to hearings before the city's Panel for Educational Policy. In the final hearing, which lasted nine hours, the panel approved Klein's recommendations. The UFT promptly sued and was joined by the local branch of the NAACP, which claimed, despite the dreadful education that the schools imflicted on pupils, that children's rights had not been considered.

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The lawsuit centered on the state legislature's 2009 revision and reauthorization of mayoral control of the school district. The revised law set out the conditions that the city must follow when closing or significantly changing the use of a school. The requirement under dispute is that the city must provide an "educational impact statement" (EIS) for each school slated for closure. The UFT claimed that the city's impact statements were insufficient. Naturally, the city thought that it had provided the requisite information, including the budgetary implications, effects on administrators and teachers, and the schools' progress reports and graduation rates.

Judge Joan Lobis sided with the union. While admitting that "the statute does not specify the information that an EIS should include," she nevertheless ruled that the city's impact statements contained "boilerplate" and insufficient details. Significantly, Lobis's ruling failed to explain what information the city would need to provide to satisfy the law. The city appealed but fared no better. In July, an appellate court, echoing Judge Lobis, ruled that the city had failed to meet its obligations by providing only "obvious" information. …

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