Public Advocate Letitia James, the author, with two children (photo: @TishJames)
With so much uncertainty in our country, there’s never been a more critical time to invest in our future and safeguard opportunities for our children. That’s why we must ensure that education funding is protected and our schools have the resources to prepare students for college and the job market.
Our children cannot perform at their best in overcrowded classrooms with outdated technology and slow internet access -- or, for that matter, with an obsession with test scores over well-rounded instruction. Our children cannot perform at their best if school libraries are closed, music and art classes are cut, and there is limited access to advanced courses. And our children cannot perform at their best if there is one guidance counselor for 800 students and no English language learning classes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lack of funding that often leads to unacceptable educational environments disproportionately impacts low-income students and students of color. New York City is home to one of the most segregated school districts in the country, where 96 percent of black and 95 percent of Latino students attend majority low-income schools. Within this system, over three quarters of our public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, a universal metric for student poverty.
Every day that these students attend underfunded schools, they face both immediate setbacks in their daily lives and harm that is damaging to their futures. A recent study found that a 10 percent increase in school funding available for a low-income student results in a 9.5 percent increase in that student’s earning as an adult. With New York City schools owed almost $2 billion from the state, this is a legal and moral failing that we can no longer allow to persist.
While there is across-the-board agreement on the need to address these challenges, as a state we still haven’t put our money where our mouth is.
In 1993, New York City school parents sued New York State for failing to provide their children with the quality education they deserved. After a 13-year legal battle, in 2006, the state’s highest court found that New York State was failing to provide every student with the opportunity for a “sound basic education” due to lack of adequate funding.
Following the landmark ruling, then Governor Eliot Spitzer and the New York Legislature created the Foundation Aid formula to ensure schools in New York State were being funded. For two years, New York State increased funding to public schools -- a welcome boon to students who were struggling to receive sound basic education. Then the Great Recession hit and spending was cut across sectors, including education. This effectively reversed the two years of increases and further cut already lacking funds.
Our economy rebounded from the recession years ago, but funding for our schools has not been restored. Put simply: our state government refuses to prioritize the education of our students in public schools.
It’s alarming that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2017-18’ budget does not adhere to the Foundation Aid formula – a failing that will rob our schools of the resources they are entitled to.
If we believe a high quality education is the foundation for our children’s success, the Governor and the Legislature must restore Foundation Aid and live up to our state’s legal and moral responsibility.
We owe it to our children.
Letitia James is the Public Advocate of New York City. On Twitter @TishJames.