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Hundreds rally for the resurrection of public education

by jmaloni

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Wed, Mar 12th 2014 08:50 pm

Petition signed by 14,000 New Yorkers delivered to Gov. Cuomo calling for increased funding for all schools, not just privately run charter schools

On Wednesday, hundreds of students, parents and community members from across New York showed up at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's door calling for the resurrection of their school's programs, classes and resources, which have been cut over the past five years. Participants delivered a petitionto Cuomo signed by 14,000 New Yorkers, calling for him to support all students, not just the 3 percent who attend privately run charter schools.

Students from across the state spoke out in the "War Room" of the Capitol, detailing what has been cut in their schools and the opportunities they have missed out on.

"I am sick of being marginalized by our state government just because of where I live," said Daniel Adamek, president of the Student Council at Herkimer High School. "My socioeconomic status and ZIP code should not affect the quality of education that I receive. Therefore, it is time for youth to take action and fight for their right to equitable school funding."

The day began with a parade down the Concourse of the Empire State Plaza led by the Cohoes marching band, which is threatened this year if an inadequate budget passes. Marchers in the parade carried signs shaped like tombstones that read "R.I.P Music classes," "R.I.P. After school programs," and other cuts to resources, programs and staff.

"When I grow up, I want to be a scientist, an artist and a musician. I like watching sports, but I like playing them better," said Brayden Lane, a 10-year-old student from P.S. 81 in Buffalo. "But my school doesn't have any real music, sports or after-school programs so I can do things. I know the solution. We need better resources. We need more in Buffalo, and the governor could do way more to help."

Following the speak-out, Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education and petition initiator, led the delivery of a the petition to Cuomo's office. It calls for the governor to be the "Governor of ALL New York's school children, not just the 3 percent who go to privately run charter schools."

"I'm angry! Gov. Cuomo claims to be the students' lobbyist, but his actions show that really he is only lobbying for the 3 percent of students who attend privately run charter schools," Ansari said. "It seems that Gov. Cuomo is more concerned about appeasing his re-election campaign donors, like the privately run charter school backers, than fulfilling his constitutional obligation to all the students of New York. I won't take it, and the thousands of public school supporters who signed the petition aren't taking it either! Our public school students need and deserve a fair shot at a quality education, and it starts with fully funding our schools."

"Gov. Cuomo has called education the 'Civil Rights issue of our day,' and I could not agree with him more," said Laurence Spring, superintendent of Schenectady City School District. "It is for this reason that I encourage him to immediately bring an end to funding inequities based on race. Too many school districts are being underfunded to the point of denying students the very basic services that they need.

"Like many other school districts with high concentrations of minority students, Schenectady is routinely denied 46 percent of the aid the law prescribes. This $62 million annual shortfall results in dramatic overtaxing and significant lapses in service for Schenectady's neediest children."

The petition kicked-off after the governor attended a pro-charter school rally last week where he said, "I am committed to ensuring charter schools have the financial capacity, the physical space and the government support to thrive and to grow."

"As a parent in a low-income community, I see every day the impact of underfunding education," said Maribel Toure, New York Communities for Change Member (Hempstead). "Our children are not given an equal opportunity to succeed. We need the governor to provide the funds that our schools need. We need him to live up to his promise to provide every single child in New York a high-quality education."

The Alliance for Quality Education is calling for a $1.9 billion increase in school aid this year, which its members say will prevent more cuts to schools this year and will get the state back on track with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. During the last week of February, AQE, along with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project of the Education Law Center, toured 14 school districts across the state, gathering evidence of the systematic underfunding of schools in order to bring a potential lawsuit against New York state for not meeting its constitutional obligation of providing every student with a "sound basic education."

"Gov. Cuomo has ignored the cries for help from New York's public schools," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. "Enough is enough! This state has a constitutional obligation to students, and if this budget continues to skirt its responsibilities, we will not hesitate to take necessary action."

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