Hundreds of Long Islanders rallied in Hauppauge yesterday, launching Educate NY Now, a new campaign with its sights set on Albany’s education policies. The kick off event was attended by parents, students and teachers, just a few weeks into the school year, are feeling the effects of the last three years of cuts to education funding.
“I am a single dad and my six year old son is a special needs student” said Willie Clark, a Bayshore parent. “In our old school district, my son was only able to enroll in a half a day kindergarten program. He needed more attention, so we were forced to pick up and move. No parent should have to move for their child to get the education that every child in every district should receive”
In the past three years, New York has lost over $2 billion in education funding, with more than $715 million of those cuts hitting Long Island schools. The result is fewer teachers, overcrowded classrooms and a lower quality of education for students. Educate NY Now is a statewide campaign which brings together parents, teachers, students and education advocates, to demand the state live up to its legal obligation to provide a sound basic education for students across the state. In the coming months, the campaign will be holding events throughout Long Island to focus attention on the effects of cuts to education.
“We realize that without bringing all of our voices together, we won’t be able to speak loud enough for Albany to hear us” said Danielle Asher, Lead Organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the Alliance for Quality Education. “When our schools lose funding, it doesn’t just mean we lose teachers. It means a student loses their art class. It means a parent has to put her child in an unregulated daycare program instead of kindergarten. We can’t go back in time-we only have one shot to give our students a good education, and when we miss it we all pay the cost.”
A large part of the education funding gap can be attributed to two recently passed tax caps. Last year, the Governor and the legislature passed a two percent tax cap which limits the levy for property tax to two percent annually, cutting deeply into local funding for schools. Another lesser known cap was passed in the 2011 budget, placing a limit on any increase to the state education budget tied to annual personal income increases. Last year, the increase was four percent or $800 million, with the increase in next years budget predicted to be even less.
“In the current year, New York’s school districts will be operating with $1.1 billion less in state aid than at the start of the 2008-09” said Stephen Allinger, New York State United Teachers’ Director of Legislation. “That translates to painful cuts in student courses and programs, and some 35,000 fewer teachers and paraprofessionals statewide. Meanwhile, the property tax cap enacted in 2011 is undemocratically restraining local communities’ ability to invest in programs essential to continued student success. Clearly, New York has reached a critical juncture if the Empire State is to retain its place among the top tier of states’ education systems.”
According to the Long Island Education Coalition, 32 percent of classrooms in “low wealth” Long Island schools have more than 25 students, meaning nearly a third of these students are forced to learn in overcrowded conditions. This crowding can be directly linked to loss ofover 3,000 teaching and staff positions from Long Island schools over the last two years.
“This is only the beginning” said Amparo Sadler, a leader with the Long Island Progressive Coalition and local grandparent. “We’re going to keep coming out to let Albany know that our children are suffering from their bad policies. In a few months the state is going to start making budget
decisions, and parents as well as grandparents like myself are here to make sure that our schools get the funding they deserve.”
Educate NY Now Statement of Principles
The Statement of Principles for Educate NY Now Calls for New York’s elected leaders to:
-Prioritize successful student achievement, instead of undermining the quality of our schools.
-Ensure educational equity and that all students have access to a high quality education that opens up personal and economic opportunities for them and benefits the future of New York. Prepare all students for college or other post secondary education, careers, and life.
-Support public education as an engine for economic growth. Reverse the numerous cuts to the quality of education that our schools have been forced to implement.
-Fulfill the moral, economic and constitutional imperative to provide every student a “sound, basic education.”
The Statement of Principles identifies the following policies as undermining the quality of education:
-The State has significantly reduced its role in funding our schools and passed the burden on to local communities. Ten years ago the state covered almost 50% of the costs of educating students, now the State covers only 40%. State funding for schools is now below what it was 4 years ago and this does not even account for inflation.
-The combination of the newly imposed cap on state school aid and the cap on local funding through property taxes will force schools to continue cutting the quality of education year in and year out.
-New York State has largely abandoned its commitments under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to provide statewide funding for a “sound, basic education” which is the constitutional obligation.