Investing In Our Schools Is Investing In Our Future

January 30, 2004

As we all know, New York is facing some tough times. Jobs are hard to find. Our kids are leaving – seeking opportunities elsewhere. But together, we will turn things around. As a former teacher and as a grandmother, I know the importance education plays – especially now. And I know how hard it is for teachers to do their jobs without the resources they need.

Our children today are expected to do and learn so much more than we ever were. To help our kids, we need to provide the resources necessary for them to meet our high standards. We must invest in education to unlock our children’s full potential. We have a moral obligation to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity for a quality education, and that means ensuring schools across the state have the resources to provide that opportunity.

The governor spent $11 million fighting to prove in court that an eighth grade education is adequate for our children in this day and age – and his budget continues to delay critically-needed funding. We all know that that’s not enough. Every school needs to be a school of excellence. Every school needs to rise with the tide of greater funding. It makes more sense to invest in education now than to pay later for the costs of failing schools and the resulting unemployment and unsafe streets.

Money won’t solve all our schools’ problems, but with adequate resources we can begin addressing the barriers to a good education. We must help schools renovate and repair unsafe buildings and relieve overcrowded classrooms. We must also increase accountability to make sure resources are used effectively.

Unfortunately, the governor’s proposed investment relies on installing video lottery terminals all across the state – a proposal that is unreliable. There’s no question that our state is facing difficult financial times and sacrifices have to be made, but we shouldn’t be gambling with our children’s future.

The governor boasts of increasing school aid by billions during his tenure. However, the reality is that our schools would have $3.8 billion less if the Assembly had gone along with the governor’s previous budget proposals. Last year, the governor tried to cut school aid by $1.4 billion, but the Legislature stopped him, passing our own bipartisan budget over his vetoes to restore $1.1 billion of his cuts.

This year, the governor is proposing a $304 million cut in school funding – including $240 million for certain expense-based aids such BOCES, transportation and special education. On top of that, he ignores inflation, rising enrollments, and the need to help students meet higher standards. The NYS School Boards Association and the Educational Conference Board estimate that state aid would need to increase by $650 million merely to sustain existing programs. Specifically, the governor’s budget cuts: $89 million in funding for disabled children; $45 million in Teacher Support Aid; $20 million from Teacher Centers, which help keep our teachers well-trained and up-to-date; and funding for BOCES and transportation aid – money that was promised to reimburse schools for projects they’ve already paid for. The governor’s budget also places a moratorium on new construction. We cannot allow the governor to balance his flawed budget on the backs of our students, teachers and homeowners.

Each year, the Assembly works to provide schools with the resources to meet the high academic standards that will attract the jobs of tomorrow’s economy. The Assembly has long advocated for smaller class sizes, Universal Pre-kindergarten, professional development, and improved school facilities – initiatives that we know work. In 1997 the Assembly enacted the LADDER (Learning, Achieving, Developing by Directing Education Resources) program, which focused on these priorities. These same priorities are embodied in what the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s historic victory asks us to address today. I am encouraged the governor’s budget does not cut the Assembly’s universal pre-K, class size, or other early education initiatives, as he did last year and in previous years. But more needs to be done.

And that’s why my colleagues and I in the Assembly are going to fight for the programs and priorities that build up New York – and tops on that list is education. It’s going to take all of us pulling together to get it done – government leaders, teachers, and activists alike – but that fight is one we absolutely have to win if we’re going to help mold today’s students into tomorrow’s success stories.