Today, I along with members of the congregation that I serve, First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, will embark on a crucial mission: a fight for fair classroom funding.
There is a Tale of Two School Systems across the state. New York state is a national leader in educational inequity — ranking 43rd in the funding gap between rich and poor school districts.
As a pastor in Harlem, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact that underfunded schools can have on our communities and the most vulnerable citizens: children. This is not only the reality in Harlem, but in many communities of color in New York City and throughout the state.
In Harlem, as elsewhere, many schools began the year with fewer art, music and after-school programs, no Advanced Placement courses, or with severely overcrowded classrooms that restrict the learning process. In addition to the lack of resources in schools, many of our children also live with the social impact of poverty. The lack of resources in school and out of school have a dangerous way of contributing the diminishment of hope and the eclipsing of future educational opportunities.
We are at a critical point in our state. We can no longer just have progressive rhetoric; we must also have progressive action to address the crisis of inequality in our educational system. We are calling on the governor and the legislature to take real action. Where there was once hope that additional money would come down through the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, there is now a growing restlessness among parents, teachers and students.
We ask: Why shouldn’t all of our children have the same opportunity at getting the best possible education? In order for this to happen the governor and the legislature must fully commit to increase funding to schools.
There are those who think that when it comes to education, money doesn’t matter. That thought is offensive to many who struggle to provide our children a quality education. Principals trying to balance an impossible budget at the beginning of the school year can tell you that money matters. A student who has no art programs because of funding cuts can tell you that money matters. A teacher in an overcrowded classroom can tell you that money matters. Money matters to our schools in Harlem and our governor and state legislature must realize that.
So, we are hitting the road.
Hundreds of parents, students and advocates will rise before dawn to travel to Albany. We will be joining more than a thousand others from across the state to demand that Governor Cuomo includes $1.9 billion in additional funding for our schools and that high need schools are prioritized.
This year the governor and state legislators must prove their commitment to addressing inequality by proposing bold funding for our schools. However, Governor Cuomo’s idea of a school aid increase is a meager 4 percent. This 4 percent increase will not be enough to stave off more cuts. And it certainly will not be enough to pursue key programs that we know can help overcome conditions of poverty — smaller class sizes, high-quality curriculum, community schools that provide meals, medical supports and counseling, and support services for students.
At a time when the governor is handing out $2 billion in tax giveaways that disproportionately benefits the wealthy and corporations, he must also be committed to securing $1.9 billion in school aid increase that is fairly distributed. This will be a good start in turning the tide of inequality in our school system.
Those of us who are committed to seeing our children receive the best opportunities and education will be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that Albany makes the right choices for our children. We will not relent in our advocacy and efforts to secure a better future for all children in New York State.
Michael A. Walrond, Jr.