Alliance for Quality Education

To combat racism, fund needy schools

State Foundation Aid is underfunded.

When I was a child in the 1960s, racism was in your face. Explicit racist insults were common and in some communities the Ku Klux Klan was known for cross burnings in the front yards of people of color.

But today racism has gone underground and modern-day cross burnings are done with a calculator. We see this in how New York state manipulates school funding formulas and fails to adequately fund our schools in our neediest communities like the South Bronx, Syracuse and Utica or – in my own Long Island Assembly district – Brentwood and Central Islip.

Recently I was proud to join 500 parents, students and community members from across the state who rallied in Albany for equity in public education. This included many parents and students from Long Island. They were rallying in Albany, as part of the Alliance for Quality Education, because the neediest schools in New York are consistently underfunded as a result of the failure of the state to fully fund Foundation Aidwhich was the statewide settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

Our poorer communities do not have the local tax base to provide for the educational needs of their students. It is the role of the state to step in and make up the difference. Providing every child with the opportunity to learn and grow to reach his or her full potential is good for our country, it is smart economics, and it is the right thing to do. In New York state, it also is a constitutional obligation.

In needy districts like Brentwood and Central Islip, high school guidance counselors serve two or three times as many students as in better-resourced schools, there is a shortage of teachers for English language learners despite increases in immigrants, fewer advanced courses prepare students for college, and classes are often overcrowded.

Only a short distance away, in affluent towns like Syosset and Jericho, are some of the best public schools in the nation. Wealthy high schools on Long Island offer courses on college real estate law, advanced placement Chinese, corporate finance and forensic science.

Nobody is trying to take anything away from students in these wealthy districts. But we all do better if the students in our neediest schools have opportunities as well.

There is a solution already on the books in our state laws. It is called the Foundation Aid formula and it was enacted in 2007 in response to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit in which the state’s highest court found that New York state was not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to our neediest students.

Foundation Aid is designed to provide significant new funding to needy schools without taking from other schools. For two years the state met its obligations under CFE, but then it stopped paying what it owes our students. According to the State Education Department, our schools statewide are currently owed $4.2 billion. There are 10 high-need school districts on Long Island with very heavily black and Latino student populations - in total 70 percent of their students are living in poverty and 93 percent are black and Latino. The AQE has calculated that these school districts are owed $488 million in Foundation Aid as a result of the statewide settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

Money really matters in education. We see it in the opportunities in our wealthy school districts, and comprehensive national research by C. Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern, Rucker C. Johnson from the University of California at Berkeley and Claudia Persico, then a graduate student at Northwestern, shows a sustained 10 percent increase in per pupil funding produces a 10 percent increase in graduation rates for low-income students and a 17 percent increase in family. All of our children deserve these opportunities.

The world has transformed in many ways during my lifetime. When it comes to systemic racism, the methods have changed, but the inequities remain. Systemic racism is not dependent on prejudice. It is about the dramatic inequalities that are baked into society, including our education system. Systemic racism shortchanges black and brown school children without anyone relying on racial slurs or actual cross burnings. We all suffer as a result, but children are the ones who suffer the most. We can do better. The state Assembly consistently supports fully funding Foundation Aid in order to close the massive educational opportunity gap based on race, income level and zip code. But we cannot do it alone. We need Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate majority to do right by all of our children.