We are beginning a season of renewal. It’s the start of the New Year and the start of the new state legislative session. In his State of the State address earlier this month, the governor shared his economic vision for the year ahead. And in his budget proposal last week, he offered his plan for funding those priorities.
For those of us who follow politics and government, it’s a familiar routine — right down to the annual complaints about crippling budget deficits and how to best invest our state resources.
One of the toughest debates this year centers on how much New York State should invest in public schools. Since our children don’t get a do-over, the stakes are high.
Every public school dollar is an investment in a child’s future; in the health of our communities; and in the future of our state.
We must ensure that every student has equal access to highly qualified educators … to AP courses that will prepare them for the future … and to music and art that enriches their lives and supports their learning.
Unfortunately, because our state refuses to fully fund public education, our public schools do not provide these opportunities.
And it’s not due to a lack of money. New York State is home to 112 billionaires, sitting atop $525 billion in wealth, and tens of thousands more multi-millionaires. These individuals don’t pay their fair share toward critical state services — a major part of why New York State has the greatest income and wealth disparity in the nation.
New York State owes some 400 school districts $3.4 billion in education funding. And yet it refuses to raise necessary revenues.
New York’s failure to fully fund public education is an embarrassment. And it’s having real consequences for educators and students.
Facing a $64 million dollar budget gap, the Rochester City School District took the dramatic and devastating step of laying off more than 100 educators and support staff in December. The mid-year cuts disrupted education for nearly 8,000 students. And teachers scrambled to build relationships with new students and adjust to new classrooms.
Meanwhile, the $85 million dollars New York State owes Rochester would have covered its $64 million dollar deficit.
In Schenectady County’s Mohonasen, ballooning class sizes and cuts to music programs are the direct result of state underfunding. Future budget gaps could mean cuts to advanced courses, electives and kindergarten.
In White Plains, underfunding has left educators and counselors struggling to keep up with students’ social and emotional needs as caseloads increase. Without full funding, they worry these students could slip through the cracks.
Enough is enough.
Now is the time for New Yorkers to stand up and demand action. It’s time for New York State to fund our future, by fully funding public education.
Earlier this month New York State United Teachers launched our Fund Our Future bus tour. From now until March 31st — the deadline for approving the next State budget — we’re highlighting the impact that chronic state underfunding has on real schools and real students. We’re traveling to Rochester … to Mohonasen … to Hawthorne Cedar Knolls in Westchester County … to the North Country and beyond.
We’re fighting back on behalf of parents, students and educators. We’re showing that the pain of chronic underfunding isn’t limited to urban districts or to rural districts, or to richer communities or poorer communities. In virtually every part of New York State, chronic underfunding hurts public schools.
The public schools of New York State were promised this funding, and we won’t rest until they get what they deserve.
It’s a new year and a new decade. It’s time for New York State to Fund Our Future. It’s time for New York State to fully fund our schools.
Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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