The preliminary injunction was a blow to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s promise to withhold the money after the Bloomberg administration and the city’s teachers’ union missed a Jan. 17 deadline for developing an evaluation system for the 75,000 teachers, which is also a core element of the state’s winning a lucrative federal grant.
Though the financial penalty was intended to motivate the two sides to act, they did not, and the judge, Justice Manuel J. Mendez of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, issued a ruling on Tuesday barring the state’s education commissioner from deducting any school aid due the city until the matter is decided in court.
Justice Mendez, in a four-page decision made public on Thursday, ruled that “innocent children,” particularly the neediest among them, could be hurt by financial cuts, as the plaintiffs had argued. He also agreed with the plaintiffs’ central argument that the matter revolves around a child’s constitutional right to a sound basic education.
“This decision is a substantial victory for all of New York City’s students,” said Michael A. Rebell, a lawyer who filed suit against the state on Feb. 5 on behalf of a group including nine parents and their children. “The judge clearly indicated that the state’s irrational penalty places innocent children at academic risk.”
Reaction to the decision underscored the bitterness over the issue, first outlined in 2010 state law.
Catherine T. Nolan, a Democrat from Queens and the chairwoman of the State Assembly’s education committee, called the ruling “tremendous,” adding, “No one should ever use formula-driven aid to punish kids.”
A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, whose lawyers had argued the case, declined to comment. Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the education commissioner, John B. King Jr., said it would be “inappropriate to comment” now, given the department’s role in the process. And Matthew Wing, a spokesman for the governor, noted that the judge’s ruling was a preliminary injunction and said that the state would appeal.
Mr. Rebell said he was prepared to fight any appeal.
Micah Lasher, the executive director of StudentsFirstNY, an education advocacy organization, pointed out that Justice Mendez had indicated that there were other ways to ensure that evaluation plans were put in place without lashing the issue to financial penalties. But he said it was unclear if the decision might affect districts around the state where such penalties could be sought.
“The ruling is a huge deal, potentially jeopardizing a key part of the evaluation law affecting not just the city, but the whole state,” Mr. Lasher said. “But the governor could use the opportunity to figure out how to make teacher evaluations permanent without putting funds at risk.”
In a statement, Howard Wolfson, a deputy mayor in the Bloomberg administration, laid the blame at the union, the United Federation of Teachers, saying, “We’ve said all along that students should not be penalized for the U.F.T.’s failure to negotiate.” He added, “Our goal has been and continues to be a fair and effective evaluation system.”
Dick Riley, a union spokesman, replied: “If the mayor had not blown up the teacher evaluation deal, this lawsuit wouldn’t have been necessary.