Thursday, March 10, 2005

Time to stand up for our schools

If you want to understand last month’s historic court decision to mandate billions of dollars in additional state funding for New York City schools, all you need to know is a few basic facts:

* The average 8th grade class in NYC has 27 students, compared to an average of 22 students in the rest of the state.

* The median teacher salary in New York City is $1,500 less than in the rest of the state.

* Our city’s schools have half as many library books per student as schools in the rest of the state.

Larger classes, lower salaries, fewer supplies. How can this be? The answer is simple: the state provides less funding per pupil to the children of New York City than it does to children elsewhere.

If you think this amounts to a profound injustice, you are right. And thankfully New York’s courts have agreed. After a 12-year effort by the non-profit Campaign for Fiscal Equity (founded by our own Councilmember Robert Jackson), this past Valentine’s Day the courts ordered the State to provide an additional $5.6 BILLION per year in annual funding to city schools, plus an addition $9.6 BILLION in long-term spending for construction and improvement of school buildings. Additional resources of this magnitude would bring about dramatic, unprecedented improvements in our schools, allowing for the smaller classes, modern facilities, well-paid teachers, and adequate supplies which our children so desperately need and deserve.

But before you cheer too loudly, there is bad news. Gov. Pataki and his Republican allies in Albany have vowed to use every tactic at their disposal to block the court order from becoming a reality. Blatantly disregarding the interests of the state’s neediest children, Pataki has already announced his intention to appeal the ruling. This virtually assures that no action will be taken for at least a year. When asked by a reporter for the Buffalo News why he was taking such an aggressive response, Pataki displayed a stunning lack of compassion in responding simply, "I don’t know, but I’m sure my lawyers will figure something out."

Many of you have already expressed your outrage at this obstruction in Albany by visiting, where with the click of a button you can send an email demanding action on the school funding issue from the governor and key legislative leaders. No less than 20,000 New Yorkers have already sent messages through the site since it was launched three weeks ago. And the site’s sponsors are making another big push now for folks to sign on as the fight in Albany heats up …so don’t miss this chance to add your name to the list.

Pataki, unfortunately, shows no sign of relenting, and education activists are now taking the fight to the State legislature, in hopes that it will end this crisis once and for all by issuing a budget modification which would create a new, more just state-wide education funding formula. But the leaders of the Republican-controlled State Senate are proving to be just as indifferent to the needs of New York City schools as the governor has been.

To counter this threat the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) has launched a campaign to pressure the obstructionist Senate Republicans where they are most vulnerable. AQE is leading phone banks to call into the districts of local Republican state senators whose seats are particularly vulnerable to Democrats. If just four Republican senators can be convinced to support equitable education funding, then the legislature will pass these desperately needed measures. So far the phone banks are showing signs of having a powerful impact. But AQE needs more volunteers, so if you can help I urge you to reach out to April Humphrey at (718) 222-1089 or (Phone banking is going on Monday and Wednesday evenings at 330 W. 42nd St.)

The stakes in this fight in incalculably high. Nothing less than the rights of 1.1 million children to a decent education hangs in the balance. All of us need to act now to make sure our leaders do not let this moment pass.


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