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State ordered to give $15 million to five struggling Buffalo schools

The Cuomo administration has lost another round in court over the millions of dollars in aid it has been withholding for 20 struggling schools across New York, including five in Buffalo.

A decision by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court orders the state budget director to release the rest of the money promised – more than $69 million – to help turn around those schools.

That includes $2.7 million for Buffalo Elementary School of Technology on South Division Street; $2.3 million for Marva J. Daniels Futures Preparatory School on Carlton Street; $2.4 million for Burgard High School on Kensington Avenue; $3.8 million for South Park High School on Southside Parkway; and $3.8 million for West Hertel Academy on Hertel Avenue.

A spokesman for the Division of Budget said the office is still reviewing the decision.

The lawsuit, initiated by an Albany-based education coalition, is tied to a dispute between the governor and State Education Department over New York's controversial receivership law. The legislation was passed in 2015 and gave superintendents of 20 underperforming schools unprecedented powers to turn them around along with a total of $75 million in aid over two years.

But nine of the schools showed academic improvement and were taken off the receivership list last summer.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been withholding millions of dollars for 20 struggling schools across New York State (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – who championed the legislation – criticized the State Education Department for removing the schools from the receivership list after just one year and, according to the lawsuit, instructed the Division of Budget to freeze the rest of the funding.

That set the stage for the lawsuit, spearheaded by the Alliance for Quality Education and filed by a group of parents.

In December, a State Supreme Court judge ruled that the budget office has "no discretion" to withhold funds that were appropriated by the Legislature for persistently failing schools.

State ordered to turn over millions to struggling schools

The judge's decision was appealed, triggering an automatic "stay."

Attorneys representing the parents then filed a motion to lift the stay and expedite the appeal, both of which were granted by the appellate court last week.

The court's decision was a bit unusual, because it requires that the money be turned over to the schools, yet also fast-tracks the appeal case for a May court date, explained Wendy Lecker, an attorney for the Education Law Center, which filed suit on behalf of the parents. If the schools lose on appeal, they will have to pay the money back, but the appellate decision signals that they have a strong case, Lecker said.

"We are pleased the Appellate Division ordered the immediate release of the grant funds," Lecker said. "These grants were frozen illegally, forcing the schools to discontinue vital academic and support services in the current school year. These schools can now plan to restore these programs to improve performance and help their students succeed."

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