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Citizens Union

City

A School Spending Plan

by Randi Weingarten, Jan 23, 2006
 
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In the City of New York, all spending should be done wisely. None of us should be asking the public to spend their precious dollars on things that are not wise expenditures.

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But my number one priority, as you would expect me to say, is the Campaign for Fiscal Equity funding [for schools]. CFE is an investment. There were some mistakes made both by the magistrates [who came up with the dollar figure New York City schools would need to provide each child with a sound, basic education] and also by the mayor. You don't just put out a number. You don't say $5.6 billion without saying what you're going to spend it on, because the public will say, "You're buying a pig in a poke." People like the Manhattan Institute say, "Well what are you using it for?" And there may be things that we are spending money on right now that we shouldn't be spending money on -- maybe $100 million out of a $13 billion budget.

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The things that CFE could be used for are systemic things that we don't have the money for now. When the city puts in a partial investment -- I would argue 25 percent -- the state and federal sources will do the rest. I'll give you three examples:

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Pre-K

Pre kindergarten education for all 4-year-olds -- and, in low-performing neighborhoods (where you really have to trump socio-economic trends), for 3-year-olds. Not just half day but full day. Think of what this would do as a custodial function for parents in this city, mostly parents who all have to work. When you do half-day pre-K, how do you help people who have to work?

And the educational advantages are profound. Every single bit of research says that kids' minds are so supple in that period of time that we can really help them become reading ready, math ready and help with social development. Pre-K takes money to create it, on the capital construction end as well as on the operating end. That's what CFE can go for.

Class Size

Class size in New York City is 10 to 60 percent higher than the rest of the state, but there is some kind of antipathy toward lowering class size by this administration. Its plan on class size would be to invest two percent in lowering class size.

Class size is the number one issue for parents and teachers. Parents in the suburbs will say... "What's the class size in this school?" Parents in private schools do the same thing. Many of us have said, don't lower it more than the rest of the state but just figure out how much money we need from CFE to lower class size so it is the same as the rest of the state.

Why is it important? I used to teach high school social studies. If you're trying to get your kids to pass a Regents exam it is a huge difference if you have 180 kids versus if you have 100 kids. You think about what you can grade every night, what you can look at every night, what you can do.

Vocational Education

The last big issue in terms of CFE funding: vocational education in this city. We have a 50 percent graduation rate in this city. You know what my grandmother used to say about that? "That's a shame." If we have this global economy where you have to help all kids, then we have to help them get out of high school. Kids can't get decent jobs -- unless you think McDonald's is a decent job -- if they don't graduate from high school. Vocational education programs have a nine percent greater graduation rate than academic programs. It turns elitism on its head. Now the mayor is into vocational education as well, but we have to ramp it up.


Randi Weingarten is president of the United Federation of Teachers


Next: Helping the City's Poor, by Fatima Goldman

 
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