One of the state’s largest unions, the New York State United Teachers Union, is preparing to sue the state for withholding 20 percent of its funding to local school districts.

The Cuomo administration started to temporarily hold back 20 percent of its payments to local governments as a way to reduce spending, in light of a massive budget deficit. According to the Division of Budget, the state is facing a revenue loss of $14.5 billion for just one year as a “result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

With the 20 percent funding cuts, freezes on hiring and pay raises, the state has been able to cut spending projections by around $4 billion. This is all meant to be temporary unless the state does not receive additional funding from the federal government. Then these cuts would become permanent.

NYSUT, however, cites years of funding shortfalls and increased operating costs due to COVID-19. They say these cuts disproportionately impact low income school districts, potentially violating students’ right to a basic education.

“No school district or student is immune to the adverse impacts of a 20 percent cut to state education aid,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “But what makes this all the more egregious is the disproportionate impact that cuts have on our neediest schoolchildren. We quite literally can’t wait any longer for action. In the absence of the federal government finally doing what’s right, the state needs to step in and prevent the decimation of our public education system at a time when needs are higher than ever before.”

The teachers’ union is calling on the legislature and the governor to consider other steps to address the financial crisis school districts are facing. They point to options such as using the rainy day fund or creating new forms of revenue such as raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy.

Raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy here in the state has been repeatedly shot down by the governor and by fiscally conservative think tanks.

Yet, NYSUT says if these cuts become permanent, school districts that rely on the state for their funding would face massive layoffs later this month. In Albany, more than 220 people are to be laid off, while in Schenectady, more than 330 employees were all laid off before the first day of school.

New York City school officials are warning of 9,000 layoffs if these cuts go through.

“We’ve already seen some districts make hasty decisions to slash their budgets in anticipation of a major state cut later this month,” Pallotta said. “But this isn’t just about jobs. It’s about what’s left for students when the dust settles as we see the loss of teachers and paraprofessionals who serve vital roles. The state must stop this madness.”