New Yorkers to Governor Cuomo: Kids Can’t Wait for Their Education Rights

The Campaign for Educational Equity convened a major statewide conference last week titled, “Right Makes Might: Working Together to Ensure NY Students’ Right to a Sound Basic Education Now and for the Future.” Hosted at the New York State School Boards Association near Albany, the conference served as a platform to discuss and to rally key education stakeholders around the inadequacies of current state education funding and the urgent need for legal and political action to safeguard the education rights of all children.

Approximately 100 people attended, representing diverse school constituencies: upstate and downstate; urban, rural, and suburban; and from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Participants included parents, teachers, school board members, district superintendents, community organizers, lawyers, and policy advocates. The diverse attendees all echoed the same sentiment: in too many New York school districts, children are suffering because teaching and learning have been undermined by inadequate funding, disparities in educational opportunity remain vast, and immediate action is needed to ensure that all schools can provide their students with at least the basic resources they need to meet state standards.

Conference speakers included parent and NYC Community Education Council (CEC) 6 president Miriam Aristy-Farer, Sonja Jones, president of NYC CEC 5 and co-chair of Manhattan Community Board 9’s education committee, education finance expert John Yinger of the Maxwell Institute at Syracuse University, former upstate BOCES superintendent Mike Glover, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, and Bob Lowry of the NYS Council of School Superintendents. They provided evidence, from the individual school level to statewide financial-data sets, of the enormous funding inadequacies around the state and their effects on children.

As Mike Glover said, “Poor kids have lost ground, particularly since the recession. The ‘American dream’ for them is increasingly distant, mythical and unobtainable…and that has tragic consequences for all children and our broader society. [They] have been consigned to a future of unemployment, underemployment, and something less than a full and rewarding citizenship in large part due to our lack of investment in their schools. That is, or should be, a source of shame and a matter of conscience for every New Yorker.”

In sessions that reviewed the recent report of the Governor Cuomo’s New NY Education Reform Commission and the governor’s executive budget proposal, these speakers, as well as former superintendent and commission member Jessica Cohen and Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, sharply critiqued Governor Cuomo’s inadequate response to the plight of students, both in his meager state-school-aid proposals and in his education commission’s failure to address central education issues, including funding. Easton urged the group to raise their voices and tell the state legislature that the governor’s budget proposals are not good enough.

Michael Rebell, who litigated the successful CFE case, discussed the need for new legal action at this point, utilizing evidence from research that CEE completed in high-needs districts around New York State. This research showed serious inadequacies in basic educational resources that plainly violated students’ right to the opportunity for a sound basic education.

Conference participants walked away with a renewed sense of optimism, determination, and unity around shared principles and goals and also concrete ideas about how to coordinate efforts over the next few months in a way that benefits all parties.

To learn more about the conference, the new lawsuit, and the Campaign for Educational Equity’s initiatives, please email us at equity@tc.edu.

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