New York State Assembly

Office of Assemblymember Scott Stringer

From Bad to Worse
One Year after the Release of "Reading is Fundamental"
By Assemblymember Scott Stringer

APRIL 2003

The shortage of textbooks in New York City (NYC) public schools is reaching alarming levels. For the second consecutive year, Governor Pataki has proposed cutting state money to NYC for textbook funding. His budget cuts are unconscionable in light of my groundbreaking investigation of textbook shortages in NYC schools. Last year I released a report entitled "Reading is Fundamental" that outlined the extreme lack of textbook funding and the hardships faced by teachers and students alike to overcome this barrier. The situation last year was bad.

Today, it is worse.

graph *2003-2004 is the Pataki proposed figure.
Source: Education Unit, NYS Division of the Budget, 2003-04 NYS Executive Budget Recommendations for Elementary and Secondary Education

Last April, my report chronicled the effects of under-funding textbooks. Rampant throughout the NYC school system were textbook shortages, out-dated books, and teachers forced to violate federal copyright law and photocopy textbooks. Despite my call for increased state support for textbooks to alleviate this deplorable situation in our schools, Governor Pataki still went ahead as planned and cut funding for the city from $77.05 million in 2001-02 to $76.75 million in 2002-03. Strangely enough, he increased funding for the rest of the state by $4.63 million during this same time period.

NYC's supply of textbooks is under an even greater threat from Pataki's proposed cuts for the 2003-04 school year. The Governor's proposal slashes textbook funding by $380,000 statewide. Of this amount, a whopping $370,000 will come from New York City - leaving only a $10,000 spending reduction for the rest of the State. If the Governor's plan passes, New York City will shoulder a staggering 97.3% of the State's entire textbook cut. Pataki's almost total reliance on NYC to finance these cuts is incomprehensible, especially since only 40% of the State's total textbook aid goes to NYC.

pie chart Source: Education Unit, NYS Division of the Budget, 2003-04 NYS Executive Budget Recommendations for Elementary and Secondary Education

Pataki's actions are outrageous, and the situation in NYC becomes even worse in comparison to other localities around the state. Sean Perry, a senior at City-As-School in Manhattan, spoke about the poor conditions of his textbooks, "My freshman year of high school, I went to public school on Long Island and my textbooks were great. They were new, the pages weren't ripped, and everyone had one. Now that I go to school in the city, you hardly get a book. If you are lucky enough to get one, the pages are torn; they're old and no good." Sean's story illustrates how the greater per pupil spending in suburbs and upstate districts leaves NYC students without the basic materials for receiving an education.

Is it any wonder that student achievement in a city lacking textbooks would fall behind the rest of the state? The numbers simply speak for themselves. The city consistently performs far worse on the SAT than the rest of the state and the United States as a whole.1 Test scores at the 4th and 8th grades show that our students under-perform on the State-mandated English tests. Similarly, NYC students pass the Regent examinations at a far lower rate than the rest of the State.

graph Source: The Manhattan Institute, New York City's Public Schools: The Facts about Spending and Performance

No matter what the grade level, students need adequate textbooks. Without them, NYC students are at a competitive disadvantage that limits their test score ability and future academic growth and job opportunity. We must act now to raise the caliber of student performance by providing them the necessary tools to reach their potential.

This year, the city enters a particularly critical year for textbooks. New curricula will be introduced in thousands of schools, forcing those schools to purchase new and different textbooks. NYC has already allocated $50 million in funds for new textbooks, yet districts and schools may be forced to take money out of their general operating budget if Pataki's cuts go into effect. Nonetheless, we know even this will not be enough. Rampant photocopying will only get worse, more students will be left without adequate materials, and the textbook shortage will grow at an exponential rate.

A year ago, I proposed a number of sweeping reforms for the way the State funds textbooks, including a $23.32 million increase in State funding for NYC public schools. Instead, the governor froze spending and a burgeoning problem got worse. This year, he has chosen to reduce spending, and I can only imagine where we will be in a year from now. By all indications, the textbook shortage has not been addressed or remedied; instead it has been ignored. I call on the Governor to stop ignoring this growing problem and act now on my proposals to rectify this injustice to NYC students:

Step #1: Increase Funding for Textbooks in NYC - I made this same proposal last year, and now I will do it again. A 30% increase in textbook funds for NYC is essential to reverse years of neglect regarding the basic needs of NYC schoolchildren. We have already lost a year and things have gotten worse. Pataki cannot waste any more time in funding textbooks in the city.

Step #2: Grant Amnesty Period for 'Textbook Evaluation Situation Teams' (TEST) - Each school should create a TEST team that reports to the Chancellor on the true nature of the textbook situation in NYC schools. To facilitate accurate reporting, the Governor should allow for an amnesty period in which teachers, principals and administrations can provide an honest assessment of how many books are needed in each school. This amnesty will reduce the potential for withholding information because of the fear in many schools that they will be punished for illegal photocopying making up for an inadequate supply of textbooks.

Step #3: Reward students who return textbooks in good condition - State and city officials should institute programs with the private sector that give NYC students a real incentive to maintain textbooks that they do receive. Other districts around the country have punished students when they fail to return their textbooks. Not surprisingly, these policies do not work. Rather than accentuate the negative, we believe it is important to provide youth with positive reinforcement in their school environments. By rewarding students who do return their books in good condition, we can reinforce the values of responsibility and trust in our city's youth.

Step #4: More Access to Community and University Libraries - State and city officials should facilitate the creation of programs and partnerships that encourage students in using community and university libraries as an extension of the classroom. In addition, the consortium of NYC colleges should develop more activities with local high schools and promote the use of their state of the art research facilities. Given the rich variety of resources available at these public institutions, we must make our libraries into welcoming venues for students.

We have made a pledge to the students of NYC that if they work hard, the State will provide them with a quality education. Fundamental to receiving this education is an adequate supply of textbooks, and it is essential that Governor Pataki stop turning his back on our city's youth. I urge the Governor, other elected officials, and educational leaders to join together to give our children a fighting chance in creating a fulfilling life. To do this, we must address this textbook shortage now.

1 For example, an average NYC student in 2000 received a 444 Verbal score and 471 Math score, as compared to a 494 Verbal/506 Math score for NYS and a 505 Verbal/514 Math score for the United States. (Sources: NYC Annual School Reports; State Education Department Report to the Legislature; and The College Board's Annual Report on SAT Results)