Fair funding for public schools

The following is a statement by the Communist Party of New York State.

Over the years many elected officials have wanted to be “the education president,” or “the education mayor.” George Pataki is the first to seek the title “eighth grade education governor,” and it looks like he has it.

An eighth grade education is good enough for New Yorkers, decided the state court’s Appellate Division in overturning equitable distribution of state school funds. Judge Alfred D. Lerner’s opinion asserted that preparation to serve on a jury (eight grades of school) constituted “educational opportunity.” The judge’s decision copied the argument of lawyers for Governor Pataki, who appealed the previous ruling requiring equitable funding. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which filed the suit in behalf of New York City students and their parents in 1993, will appeal to the state’s highest court.

As long as it stands, this ruling perpetuates a major funding inequity, cheating the New York City schools system out of an amount over 10 percent of its total budget. Equal state funding per student would provide New York City public schools $1.5 billion more per year. The impact, year after year, is major deficiencies in staffing, facilities, books, supplies, and equipment for 1.1 million public school students. This huge swindle makes it impossible to reduce class size to a reasonable level – a critical need. In severely overcrowded classes, teachers cannot teach properly and students cannot learn as they should.

The court’s judgment was colored by race. African-American and Latino children and youth are 73 percent of New York City school students, but the court decision mentions race only to dismiss any claim that federal Civil Rights laws apply. Declaring that, “Society needs workers in all levels of jobs, the majority of which may very well be low level,” while pretending the race and nationality of those consigned to the “low level” is accidental, holds the racist status quo in place.

The decision that the state constitution requires only “a minimally adequate educational opportunity” ignores the question of equal opportunity. There is “a snowball’s chance” level of opportunity and there is “George W. Bush at Yale” opportunity – but to Judge Lerner, it is all “opportunity.”

The court’s decision raises many more questions than it answers. Will the state legislature follow the logic of this decision and cut state aid to all local school districts? If education requirements end in junior high, why set standards and requirements or spend money on any further studies? High schools in New York City are already cutting out and combining courses. Now parents, educators and concerned people throughout the state should be worried and angry.

Where have the four judges who reached this decision been for the last 30 years? Computers eliminated many clerical jobs. Industry introduced computer-assisted design and manufacturing. Many jobs were moved out of the state and out of the country. The minimum wage has fallen behind the cost of living and now guarantees poverty. Certainly the Governor and the State Senate have done their part to keep jobs at the low end by stopping attempts to raise the minimum wage.

How will the decision improve the state’s economy? The next time someone from Governor Pataki’s office tries to persuade a business to move to or to stay in New York State, will they proudly announce the eighth-grade education level of the work force? Or will an engineer being recruited by a New York company jump at the chance to move to where her children will have a “minimally adequate educational opportunity”?

What kind of a future does this offer our children? Ourselves? Students denied a proper education today may never become the doctors, artists, scientists, computer programmers and writers that society will need in a few years. Lack of opportunity hurts more than its initial victims.

The Communist Party has a vision of, and works for, a socialist future that provides every person with real opportunity for education, employment and social participation at the highest level of their interests and abilities. Society needs the skills and gifts of every person. In a state and country as wealthy as ours there is no excuse for anything less.

The Communist Party of New York State welcomes the persistence of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. They have fought long and hard. We know that they and the other forces working for decent schools, equitable funding and real opportunities for our children and youth will continue and expand this struggle.

Public education is a vital issue. Now is the time for every New Yorker to join this fight for justice, better schools and a future of promise.

Make this a major issue in the November elections! Demand an answer from Governor Pataki! Why is he against fair funding for public schools? Ask every candidate their position on school funding! Demonstrate to demand fair funding for all public schools!





The Communist Party of New York State can be reached at bdavis@cpusa.org>