Stop shortchanging students and fully-fund schools in 2016

David R. Jones, The Urban Agenda

I am just off a holiday season where I got to shower my grandchild with gifts. Nothing feels better. But as I do so, I think about the rest of the children in the state who need more than gifts. Over half of the students in our city’s public schools live in low-income households. And unfortunately, the lack of income in their homes and neighborhoods end up reflected in the schools they attend, which also lack the resources to pull them out of poverty. Nothing feels worse to me than this knowledge.

We continue to debate what to do about struggling schools without the proper grounds to do so--we have not evened out the playing field. Not until we ensure that public schools have the funding they need to provide the highest quality education to their students can we truly judge their effectiveness. We are still letting a child’s zip code determine their chances for life success, and we cannot continue to do so. More importantly, we needn’t do so: in a rich city, small sacrifices by those at the top could make enormous changes for those at the bottom.

The latest results of my organization’s annual Unheard Third survey confirm the need for us to act. Despite what seems to be an economy that is improving broadly, poor households are being forced to make difficult financial choices. One out of four low-income families in New York City said that they were forced to cut back on buying school supplies or clothes for their children this year.

In this year’s state budget, the governor and other elected officials need to stand up for our kids to make sure that they get their fair share. It is time for New York City schools to receive full funding that the victory of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity promised them. That 2006 court case ruled that the State is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a fair, basic education to our children. Instead of implementing this law, the State has rejected it, claiming that the schools are failing, and do not deserve such a level of funding. But that is clearly a cynical, circular argument: the schools are not succeeding precisely because they are not funded at the levels that they should be.

It is easy to demonize teachers and parents when children are not succeeding. But how can we truly do so when the schools themselves lack all the supports they deserve? And it is not fair for the governor to hold back on renewing mayoral control of the city schools when he is not providing the resources that would allow our mayor to make a larger impact, particularly in underserved school districts. I urge the state government to pass mayoral control along with the resources that will allow city schools to be successful.

If the richest New Yorkers contributed their fair share in taxes, our schools would have all the resources they need to provide the best education possible for our children. (And only then could we fairly examine if schools were effectively using their resources.) State leadership needs to ask the hedge funds, billionaires, and other one percenters (and there sure are a lot of them in our state) to play a part in investing in our children’s future.

Just think of the impact if all those hedge fund billionaires who support select charter schools in our city focused their efforts and resources on improving the larger school system, particularly our most vulnerable schools. If the aim is to help our neediest students, then why not fully fund these schools and hold them accountable for results.

But since that is unlikely to happen, we need a dedicated revenue stream to bolster the neediest schools in our most impoverished communities. Consider this: by adding a one percent increase to the tax burden of those making $665,000 or more per year, the city would generate $2.4 billion in funding. This would allow schools to restore vital programs and staff that have been cut in recent years as we have cut taxes on New York’s wealthiest. Robbing poor schools to pay rich bankers is not good public policy. It’s time to reverse the trend.

Our children and schools have waited long enough. New York’s economy is the strongest it has been in years. Let’s make sure some of those gains go to the kids who need it most. Who knows, maybe they’ll become the next one percenters? But I’m guessing they’ll know it’s their duty to give back.

Issues Covered

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