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Lengthy delays in receivership lawsuit will just set students back even further

The main thing to know about the lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s new receivership law for New York schools is that it was inevitable and, more than that, not unreasonable.

The law raises big, new issues that were bound to be litigated, especially in this union-friendly state. What is crucial is for the courts to expedite this challenge so that schools can either get on with it or turn to another approach to improving education.

The receivership law represents an important effort to deal with persistently failing schools, especially those in Buffalo, where efforts to negotiate with the Buffalo Teachers Federation run into a brick wall.

The law allows State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to identify schools to be administered not by the local school board, but by a receiver who, after efforts to negotiate contract changes, has the authority to impose them, even over union objections.

Twenty such schools have been identified in Buffalo, where Superintendent Kriner Cash has been named as the receiver. The BTF and New York State United Teachers say that’s illegal, and they have taken the matter to court. Given the novelty of the law, the challenge is not inappropriate, though it is also fair to say that a considered, appropriately scaled program to change the dynamic in failing schools is worth trying.

But lawsuits can be tied up in courts for years, and Buffalo students’ education is measured in weeks and days. For years, reformers have worked to improve education in Buffalo, and year after year, more students are consigned to failure. For many of them, that means lives of diminished possibility.

That, in the end, is the pernicious trend this law is meant to reverse. How much longer is New York going to talk about reform without ever doing anything about it? This does something about it.

Opinions vary about the likelihood that the law will survive court review. Some say it is broad enough to weather the challenge. Others say that since the State Legislature did nothing to reform the overarching Taylor Law, which controls labor issues, the measure is doomed. Either is possible.

This case must proceed through the courts as quickly as possible, from trial to appeal. Delay serves only to ensure that more students are ensnared in a dysfunctional system.

The essential thing is to know sooner rather than later if this daring but controversial approach is going to make a difference in the lives of New York’s underserved students. That is in the hands of the courts.