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(ALBANY, NY) – Hundreds of parents, teachers and community leaders today urged state lawmakers to address a growing gap in funding levels between rich and poor school districts across the state.
The advocates took part in a Parade for Public Education led by the Cohoes High School marching band. The event, which included parents, students and teachers from across the state, drew more than 1,000 people. The parade marched around the state Capitol and culminated with a rally at the West Lawn of the Capitol.
Speakers at the rally called for adequate and equitable funding for schools. Advocates expressed that their schools are in crisis and cannot afford a fifth straight year of cuts. Last year, the state budget allocated a four percent restoration in aid, and school districts across the state were forced to make sweeping cuts to programs, classes and teachers. This year, the Governor proposed a 4.4 percent restoration, which is almost the same amount as last year. More classroom cuts are inevitable this year without additional aid to schools.
Advocates at the rally, including the Educate NY Now campaign, are calling for:
In addition, the Alliance for Quality Education and New York City participants are calling for:
“I am a mother of twin toddlers. My children will be entering the Buffalo Public School system for the first time in September. But I fear for them,” said Angelica Rivers, parent from Buffalo, NY. “This proposed budget is just not enough! It’s not enough to prevent cuts, and these cuts will hurt my sons. My sons love football, and in Buffalo, they want to cut down the football program to just four teams for the whole district. That means tons of children won’t be able to participate. These are kids whose only reason for not being on the street is football.”
“It is really important that parents came to Albany today to advocate for their children. We need to restore funding to the budget to make up for the fact that schools have absorbed so many cuts in recent years,” said Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Chair of the Education Committee.
“There is a resounding problem in New York State when the poorest and most vulnerable kids are not receiving the education that is rightfully theirs,” said Ryan Carson, student from Unatego High School. “Just five years ago, my school had more electives, a wider variety of extracurricular activities and more teachers. Today, students have fewer opportunities than their older brothers and sisters. We are not asking for the moon and the stars, we just ask for what is our constitutional right.”
“It’s a shame that every year students, parents and educators have to remind their state legislators that we need funding,” said Tyrone Francisco, senior at Brownsville Academy High School. “At our school, we have lost our music program, our tutoring and extension program. This jeopardizes our ability to compete with students from around the country when we arrive at college. We urge Albany to restore the funds and put us back on a level playing field.”
“Race, economics and disability should not be predictors for student achievement. The inequitable distribution of state aid ensures that these factors, outside of a child’s control, will continue to determine the quality of their education,” said Laurence Spring, Schenectady City School District Superintendent. “We must demand immediate change. We cannot settle for anything less than an outcome that meets the original premise of foundation aid, which is to ensure equity for all students in New York State. The inequitable distribution of state aid has set the clock back and has severe consequences on students in high need districts – like Schenectady.”
“Since the 2008-09 school year, our expenses have gone up more than $21 million and the state has reduced our aid by another $8.8 million – a painful combination for our students, families and community,” said City School District of Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, Ph.D. “We have eliminated 300 jobs, closed a middle school, cut programs for students at every level, looked for and found savings in every corner of our organization and invested tens of millions of dollars from our dwindling reserves to help offset the burden on our taxpayers. We are running out of options to meet our obligations to our children and families, and we implore our state lawmakers to provide us and struggling public schools across New York with the financial help our students need and deserve.”
“Every day in classrooms all across our state, New York’s teachers are overcoming incredible obstacles to provide our children with a first rate education, but they can’t do it alone,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO. “Funding inequities and shortcomings have only been magnified by the ill-conceived tax cap, which makes it all the more important that the state step-up and provide stable and predictable resources for all schools so that every child has access to the quality education they deserve.”
“Cuts to public schools and colleges — and the devastating property tax cap — mean a lesser education for our students, and weaker state economy,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta, who noted school districts have $1.1 billion less in state aid this year than in 2008-09. “We are marching to send a clear message to lawmakers that the proposed education budget falls far short of what districts need to preserve teachers and programs, and the quality education that every child deserves.”
“Strong school libraries build strong students,” said Sue Kowalski, Pine Grove Middle School librarian in East Syracuse. “When funds reduce the quality of our library programs, we are cutting at the center of teaching and learning in a school. School libraries are a wise investment for an entire school community. Our students deserve their continued support.”
“A four percent increase last year didn’t save us from devastating classroom cuts, and unless we get at least $350 million in additional funding this year, it will be more of the same,” said Zakiyah Ansari, mother of eight children in New York City, Advocacy Director at the Alliance for Quality Education. “The cuts to art, music, honor classes in addition to districts having to reduce summer school and career and technical education continue to hurt our children and move them further away from being college and career ready. We need the Governor and legislature to fund our schools now.”
“New York State is failing its students by not living up to its constitutional obligation to provide every child with a ‘sound basic education,’” said New York City Councilmember Robert Jackson, Chair of the Education Committee. “As lead plaintiff in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, I worked to ensure that equitable educational opportunity is paramount in the funding of our schools. It is imperative that the state live up to its constitutional obligation by funding schools adequately and equitably.”
“Today, over 1,000 New Yorkers demanded adequate and equitable funding for their schools,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “The state can no longer hide behind the phrase, “Money doesn’t matter.” As we have seen, money does matter. It matters in the districts that are on the verge of educational insolvency. It matters to the students who are cut out of music, art, sports and afterschool programs. And, it should matter to New York State because the enormous opportunity gap between students will have damaging consequences for our economic future. The legislature must add funds to the Governor’s budget in order to prevent yet another year of classroom cuts.”
“New York State has a long history of funding inequities when it comes to public schools in high need areas. It is a proven fact that funding inequities lead to opportunity gaps for students,” said Ocynthia Williams, Bronx parent with United Parents of Highbridge. “It is imperative that this year the Governor and legislators do the right thing for our kids by ensuring there is more aid put into the budget for schools and that the money is distributed equitably in low income and high need communities”