This week's post is written by Danielle Asher, the Statewide Early Childhood Education Campaign Coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education and the Lead Organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition.
Across Long Island our children are returning to school, only to find that the broken policies of the past three years coming out of Albany have taken away even more education resources. Packed into overcrowded classrooms, given only half-day kindergarten, their after-school programs cut, the advanced placement classes reduced, these students are being told a conflicting message.
On one hand, students are told over and over that education is the path to success, citing statistics which prove more quality education equals more future income. Yet, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that there is no better investment you can make than education, Albany continues to cut funding for education across the state.
If you believe that money talks, these dollars seem to be saying loud and clear that education is not quite the priority that our state government makes it out to be. In fact, in the past 2 years, New York's schools have lost over $2.2 billion in funding. Yes, that's billion with a "B".
We can blame this enormous funding gap partly on two recently passed tax caps. Last year, the Governor and the legislature passed a 2% tax cap which limits the levy for property tax to 2% annually. By limiting the amount of money that can be raised locally, this cap cuts deep into school funding.
Another less well known cap was passed in the 2011 budget, placing a limit on any increase to the state education budget tied to annual personal income increases. Last year, the increase was 4% or $800 million, with the increase in next years budget predicted to be even less.
These two caps combined have ensured cuts to public education each and every year, and schools are stuck in the middle, not being able to raise enough revenue to continue necessary services from year to year. In other words, it is just going to get worse for our students.
On Long Island, the effects of these policies are being felt across the board. According to the Long Island Education Coalition, 32% of classrooms in "low wealth" Long Island schools have more than 25 students, meaning nearly a third of these students are forced to learn in overcrowded conditions. This crowding can be directly linked to the elimination of over 3,000 teaching and staff positions in Long Island schools over the past two years.
As I wrote in an earlier blog post[insert link here], overcrowded classrooms mean less individual attention for students, giving less assistance to students when they need it. When this is combined with reducing pre-k and kindergarten programs to half a day, as well as cutting guidance counselor positions, and after-school activities, it's a recipe for disaster.
Continued funding cuts don't just mean we lose teachers. They mean a student loses their art class. They mean a parent has to put her child in an unregulated daycare program instead of kindergarten. We can't go back in time-we only have one shot to give our students a good education, and when we miss it we all pay the cost.
But just because Albany has consistently cut education funding over the past three years doesn't mean it has to continue. This Thursday, more than a thousand Long Islanders will be rallying in Hauppauge to kick off a new campaign called Educate NY Now.
Educate NY Now is a new statewide campaign which brings together parents, teachers, students and education advocates, to demand the state live up to its legal obligation to provide a sound basic education to students across the state. In the coming months, the campaign will be organizing events throughout Long Island, throwing light on the hardships that students, parents and teachers are all facing because of Albany's policies.
If we really want to give Long Island's students the educations they deserve, we need Albany to commit to providing the resources. But as with everything in politics, sometimes it can tough for any one of us alone to push a policy change. To be successful, we're going to have to join our voices together, so that we can speak loud enough for Albany to hear us. I hope to see you on Thursday!
Thursday's rally will be at 4pm, on the front lawn of the H. Lee Dennison Building, located at 100 Veterans Memorial Hwy in Hauppauge.