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Citizens Union

How to Spend the Money for the Schools

While awaiting the judge's order in the school funding case, three views on what's next:

• The Governor Delays and Denies
by Steve Sanders

• How to Spend the Money for the Schools
by Eva Moskowitz

• Parents, Educators and Advocates Must Have Their Say
by Leonie Haimson

The children of New York City have been waiting too long for the school funds that are rightfully theirs, and when Justice Leland DeGrasse issues his forthcoming court order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, he needs to do it in such a way as to force the state government to stop its delaying tactics. Fines would be completely appropriate.

When the money finally makes its way to New York City schools, there is still the question of how to spend it.

Making Pre-K Universal For Real

I feel incredibly strongly that some money must go to early childhood education. We have something called universal pre-K, but that name is like something out of George Orwell's 1984. Our program is not universal in two ways. It is not universal because there are more than 50,000 four-year-olds and more than 75,000 three-year-olds who do not get to attend pre-K.

It is also not universal in the sense that it does not cover the instructional needs of the kids. Today, kids are expected to know in kindergarten what they were expected to know in first or second grade 25 years ago. You cannot have a mere two hours of pre-K, which is what they fund now, and expect children to be ready for kindergarten.

There is a complete consensus in the research community and among educators that to give children a good start in life, they must have early childhood education. If not an all-day program, which would be ideal for working parents, it must at least be a nine-to-one program.

More Qualified Teachers

The most important factor in a child's education -- and it is somewhat cliché to say -- is the quality of the teacher. If you have a poor curriculum and a great teacher, your kid will be fine.

There are two factors in getting more qualified teachers. One is the pay and the second is the working conditions. The pay is better than it was 10 years ago, but we still need to improve it.

Addressing working conditions is so simple. You cannot expect to retain teachers if you send them into a school where not only is the pay inadequate, but they have to scrounge around for the most basic supplies. When you get a job in the corporate world, you get a desk, a chair, a telephone, paper, pens. You do not have to buy your own. You do not have to scrounge around.

Fixing The Labor Contracts

We have to decide whether teachers are assembly line workers or professionals. In my view, they are professionals. They need to be paid as such and they need to contribute as such without complicated work rules. A good time to do this is when you come up with more money, so the additional funding from the state could create an opportunity here.

And sometimes the issue is money. For example, we cannot get qualified science teachers unless we pay them more than some other teachers. If you can be a nurse or a pharmacist for much more money, why would you go into teaching? A few do, but, in general, it is not going to happen. But the teachers contract prohibits differential pay.

Reducing Class Size; Upgrading Facilities

The final thing is class size reduction and facilities upgrades. As part of this, we have to stop thinking of arts, science and sports as luxuries that we can afford only if we are not in a fiscal crisis. All the private, independent and parochial schools recognize this. Art and sports engage kids. If kids are engaged they will do better in geometry and reading.

But we do not have the facilities for arts, sports and the like. For example, 55 percent of New York City public schools do not have an outdoor playground. The New York City school system has very few chorus risers. Many schools have an auditorium but no curtain. The curtain was purchased 40 years ago and has since disintegrated. It is hard to have a play with no curtain.

It would be great to have robotics labs. But that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the bare minimum.

Eva Moskowitz chairs the City Council Education Committee.

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