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Education activists say large discrepancies exist in school funding across NY state

Tom Magnarelli
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner with other education activists at city hall.

Education activists say New York state has been under-funding schools since the 2008 recession because it did not have enough money to comply with a 2006 ruling from the state’s highest court. Now that the state has a surplus, local officials are calling for more funding for schools to be added to this year’s budget.

A report by the Alliance for Quality Education shows every Syracuse student receives $11,000 less in funding compared to students in the state’s wealthiest districts. Executive Director Billy Easton said they are lobbying the legislature.

“Syracuse has tremendous challenges; it’s one of the poorest cities in the entire country,” Eastman said. “You actually need to spend more per child in a poor community than in a middle class or wealthy community to get the same educational outcomes.”

Representatives with the Alliance for Quality Education said that based on state formulas, students in poverty should be receiving 65 percent more than a student who is not in poverty. In Syracuse, $19,109 is spent on each student, which is slightly higher than the $18,680 spent on each student in Fayetteville. But 77 percent of students in Syracuse are in poverty compared to only 12 percent in Fayetteville. In Skaneateles, each student is getting $1,000 more than the students in Syracuse and their poverty rate is only 8 percent.       

Syracuse City School District Superintendent Sharon Contreras said if they had more funding, they could expand bilingual programming, computer science and arts classes, hire more security and increase student transportation.

“It is a travesty that we are standing here, begging for the most basic of civil rights in this country which is a fair education,” Contreras said. "I believe it is unfair. There is no reason in this great state that we have not delivered on the promise for an equitable funding system."

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said the best way to solve poverty is with better education and it is time for the state to meet its obligation.

“The number one way to solve poverty is a sound, high quality education and you can’t do that as long as you’re constitutionally underfunding our school district,” Miner said.

New York State Assembly Democrats have proposed a millionaires’ tax that could go to additional school funding.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.