Cuomo still not giving public schools what they need

Cuomo still not giving public schools what they need

Cuomo still not giving public schools what they need
February 1, 2016

In 2006, after 13 years of litigation, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity won a landmark lawsuit against the state of New York. CFE successfully argued that the constitutional rights of students were being violated due to the chronic underfunding of public schools.

A decade later, we are still waiting for our state to comply with the court's ruling. Statewide schools are owed $4.8 billion, with $2 billion earmarked for New York City. Most of these funds are owed to our highest-need children, who struggle every day in school, and lack serious resources in their communities.

Considering that half of New York City's children live in poverty, and multiple studies have shown that poverty impacts executive functions and performance in school, the state's negligence is unfathomable.

It is inhumane for our poorest districts to be consistently neglected, while wealthier districts thrive. Scarsdale, for example, with the benefit of local wealth, spends $8,000 more per pupil than New York City, with our concentrated poverty. This $8,000 gap is the difference between students who receive additional literacy support, enrichment programs, and Advance Placement opportunities, and those who do not.

Funding is a major reason why wealthier school districts continue to produce more well-rounded and better-prepared students who go on to graduate from college, while poorer districts continue to lag behind. We preach higher standards for students, while not providing the resources for teachers and schools to help students reach those higher standards.

Ironically, while the state continues to underfund our highest-need school districts, the governor and many elected officials continue to wage war on public schools. It is hypocritical to underfund schools, while threatening to close them down. After schools are "closed," and the principal and teachers are removed, charter schools are then often green-lighted to take over. We cannot ignore that many of the investors in charter schools contribute handsomely to our elected officials. These charters serve as smart money for investors, as the New Markets Tax Credit allows investors to double their money within a seven-year period of their investment. While the rich continue to get richer, poor children continue to suffer. The state is supposed to bridge this fiscal equity gap and save our children. 

The New York state exams provide additional evidence of the impact of underfunding. In New York City, on the 2015 English language arts assessment, just over 50 percent of white and Asian students were considered proficient, while just under 20 percent of black and Hispanic students were proficient. The results were not much better on the mathematics assessments.

The racial and economic disparities in education have been well documented for quite some time, which is why the court ruled in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's favor 10 years ago. With the additional funding, we could finally put a serious dent in the opportunity gap. Now is the time to focus on early childhood programs and parenting classes, additional teachers, smaller class sizes, enrichment programs, holistic curricula, and more time on task. As long as the funding is adequately distributed and managed accordingly, the possibilities for our children are endless.

Consider Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School in the Bronx, where I have the honor to serve as principal. With a population that is 80 percent low income and 99 percent black and Latino, CASA had New York City’s highest combined growth score average on state tests in 2015. How? Great teachers and adequate funding. Thanks to a series of grants we have received over the years, we have been able to provide a sound education. We are able to meet the individual needs of students, and most importantly, instill a joy for life and learning in our students.

CASA has an extended day program that operates five days a week, and our curriculum includes dance, game design, gardening, art, music and gym, in addition to the more traditional disciplines. But grant funding is precarious and temporary. If all schools were adequately funded, they could have the flexibility to ensure ALL students are meeting the unique needs of their school community.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 budget proposal of only $266 million statewide in foundation aid is woefully inadequate for our schools.

It is time for all voters in New York state, regardless of racial or economic background, to unite and hold the governor and Legislature accountable for crimes against our children. Chronic underfunding creates massive dropout rates, underemployment, and more jail cells. It is time for we the people to exercise our individual and collective power and hold our elected officials accountable to the court's ruling. It is time for the state government to step up and do what's necessary for our democracy to thrive, so we can ensure that no child is left behind. 

Jamaal Bowman is the principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx.

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Jamaal Bowman
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