Hundreds of parents, students and educators rallied at the New York state Capitol Tuesday, urging more funding for schools.
Led by the Cohoes High School marching band, the crowd walked from the Albany Armory to the West Lawn to urge state officials to provide more than a half-billion in additional school aid.
“They say cut back! We say fight back!” and “One, two, three, four! Give us what we’re fighting for! Five, six, seven, eight! We deserve to graduate!” chanted the crowd as it continued marching in the middle of the State Street, accompanied by a police escort.
The rally was organized by the Educate NY Now! campaign, which is a coalition of organizations including the Alliance for Quality Education and the New York State United Teachers. They are asking the state to distribute an additional $350 million in school aid in an equitable manner and add another $203 million in basic aid that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed for a fiscal stabilization fund.
Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring reiterated his call for changing inequitable distribution of state aid.
“The way the state funds education guarantees that race, economics and disability will continue to determine the opportunity for educational achievement for our students and this is unacceptable,” he said.
Schenectady is only getting about 54 percent of what it is due under the original state funding formula, which means it is being shorted $62 million, according to Spring.
“Shameful!” yelled the crowd.
He said afterward that his district is facing a budget gap of about $9.5 million. Schenectady school officials were just hit with a $415,000 cut in federal funds for low-income and special needs students in the 2013-2014 year because of the federal government’s so-called sequester — the inability of Congress and President Barack Obama to reach a spending deal.
Spring said the district would close some of the gap by tapping its surplus and also re-evaluating all its programs.
A contingent from the Cohoes City School District held up signs, pointing to $6.1 million in state aid funding that was cut as part of the Gap Elimination Adjustment to balance the state budget during the last few years.
The marching band’s involvement came about because Cohoes City School District Superintendent Bob Libby is one of the superintendents working with the Education NY Now! group. It was a chance to showcase one of Cohoes’ performing ensembles.
“It’s one of the few we have left after the last budget crisis,” said Libby, who was not at the event. “We’re very proud of them.”
In addition, the advocacy organization provided curriculum that teachers could use to incorporate this event into their teaching.
“It’s kind of a hands-on experience for those who are juniors and seniors in social studies classes. There was good connections made as to how to translate this into lesson plans that are consistent with and speak to the standards,” he said.
City School District of Albany Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard said the United States is not matching other countries such as Singapore and Holland in how it values education.
“The teaching profession and education there is revered — not publicly maligned,” she said.
The burden to evaluate teachers falls on the students through these state tests, which is not right, she said. Also, she said is difficult to develop good teachers when the curriculum seems to be changing every five years or so, based on the whim of education officials.
Vanden Wyngaard said the group is asking for the state to fulfill its constitutional obligation to pay its fair share to provide a basic education. Area students were also participating in the march and rally as part of their participation In government classes or community service.
Broadalbin-Perth High School senior Amanda Drake said, “I guess it’s a good thing.”
Harlan Mangulis, also a senior at Broadalbin-Perth, said his participation will fulfill hours for community service. He said he believes that government should look for other places to cut so more money can go to education, especially the arts.
He was pessimistic, though, about whether the march would accomplish anything.
“They’re just rich and they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do,” he said of the Legislature.
Government teacher Chris Kotraba said student participation in the march was voluntary. “Our budget has been cut year after year. Educating our young people is one of the best things we can do as a society,” he said.
Student Hunter Howard came from Otego to participate in the rally. He said his district has experienced many cuts during the last few years, including the golf team and electives. Class size has increased and there is a potential of closing one of the district’s two elementary schools that are 20 miles apart in the small district, he said.
“We’ve cut as much as we can.”