Parents, children, teachers and school aides gathered in front of Gov. Cuomo’s office in New York City Tuesday, September 8 to protest projected cuts to the New York State School’s budget.
The rally was organized by the Alliance for Quality Education, Parents Supporting Parents NY and Make the Road, an immigrant rights group. Children and parents held posters proclaiming “Let our children bloom” and “Stop the Cuomo cuts.”
Zakiyah Ansari, New York City director of the Alliance for Quality Education and an award recipient at the 2013 New York Better World Awards dinner, a fundraiser for the Peoples World, was the first to speak.
She said, “In April 2020, Gov. Cuomo, in the middle of a pandemic, cut $1.1 billion from high-needs, low-income schools for fiscal year 2020-21. The cuts to the city’s public schools were $717 million. The cuts to the Rochester Schools, a district that was already facing a $60 million deficit before the pandemic, were $29 million. In fact, 87% of the aid cuts in 2020 were made to high-needs, low-income school districts. Is that equity? Is that right?” The crowd responded with a resounding “no” after each question.
In April, Gov. Cuomo’s budget cut allocations to low-income schools, nullifying the CARES Act funds received from Congress for technology and other COVID expenses.
In August, the New York State budget office informed school districts that it was withholding an additional 20% from local school districts. Districts with majority Black and brown students have been hit the hardest with the city slated to lose $2 billion, Buffalo $157 million and Rochester $130 million.
High needs school districts are facing a $2,626 per student cut while wealthier districts are seeing a per student cut of $873.
State Sen. Robert Jackson, who represents Washington Heights, spoke at the rally. In 1993 as a Community School Board President, he filed a lawsuit against New York State to fix an inequitable school funding distribution formula that disadvantaged New York City schools and won a court judgment in 2006 that awarded billions for city schools. Although the schools received part of that money, the State of New York still owes a substantial part of that award. Jackson told the crowd, “We all know that the state budget is deep red now, about $14.5 billion, and New York City is about $9 billion in the red caused by the pandemic. Let’s be real. They have failed to properly fund education in New York State. They have held up $5 billion in New York State and $2 billion in New York City. Are you willing to be engaged in the fight? We want the Assembly and Senate to pass a bill to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. When we pass that legislation, we will have a hot, hot piece of coal in our hands. We are going to put that coal in the governor’s hands and he will have to sign that bill!”
Mohammed, a high school teacher, spoke next. “I’m here because I’m a teacher. I’m here because Cuomo’s willingness to shortchange our students, instead of taxing the superrich, makes the job of any teacher working to give our students a fighting chance so much more difficult. I’m here because Cuomo’s racist attempt at defunding education has links to the shackles of inequity that disadvantage our students during and after their time in high school.”
Felicia Gray of Parents supporting Parents NY addressed the crowd. “This pandemic is disproportionately affecting our health, our communities and our schools. Our schools were already messed up. We already had lead in the water. Our infrastructure was already crumbling. Governor Cuomo does not care about Black and brown people. And now he says that he is going to take more than the $2 billion dollars than he has already taken from our children this year because he’s waiting on federal money. We live in the richest city in the world. The billionaires have been getting wealthier since this pandemic and I have neighbors that I have to feed because they have no food.”
Meril Mousoom, a high school student who introduced the speakers, demanded, “Tax the rich and fund education now!”