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Rally to fund schools, obey court order draws hundreds to state Capitol

Karen DeWitt
New York state Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins at the rally on Monday in Albany.

Hundreds of school children, parents, union organizers and leaders came to the Capitol in Albany to rally for more money for New York’s schools. The event was part of what’s become known as the Moral Monday movement.

The rally, organized by teachers unions and their allies, and attended by numerous Democratic state lawmakers, also featured the preacher who began Moral Mondays in his home state of North Carolina, Rev. William Barber. Barber took on Gov. Andrew Cuomo directly. He criticized the governor, who has been at odds with the unions, for what he said was attacking teachers.

“And using your political power, governor to settle scores, just because you are mad that somebody criticized you, rather than ensuring the promises of our constitution” Barber said.

Credit Karen DeWitt
Rev. William Barber at the rally at the state Capitol on Monday.

Cuomo angered teachers when he said last fall that he intends to break the public school monopoly, and that he found it incredible that less than 5 percent of teachers were deemed efficient in the latest teacher performance scores.

Barber cites New York’s high court order that said billions more dollars need to be spent each year in order to guarantee each schools child’s constitutional right to an adequate education. That order came in 2005, and has never been fulfilled.  

“The court said this state is guilty of not providing equitable funding,” Barber said. “And has been guilty for nine years”

Barber says a citizen who did not pay a parking fine for nine years would be arrested.

“Somebody needs to arrest the attention of this governor,” he said.

Barber also railed against charter schools, which he says only add to inequality and isolation of poor students.

The minister also praised Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who died earlier this month, saying the elder Cuomo understood income, class and race disparity when he gave his "Tale of Two Cities" speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.

The rally comes as a study released by the teacher union-affiliated Alliance for Quality Education finds that under Cuomo, funding inequality between rich and poor schools has grown wider.

In the past, Cuomo has said he would like to spend more money, but New York had a multi-billion dollar deficit. New York State United Teachers Vice President Andy Pallotta points out that the state is now running a surplus.

“We’re not broke anymore,” Pallotta said. “Spend the money, Gov. Cuomo.”  

A spokesman for Cuomo says New York “spends three times as much per pupil in high needs districts than it does on low needs districts, and that funding has only increased over the past four years.” Spokesman Rich Azzopardi, in a statement, calls critics 'special interests' and says the governor is trying to inject accountability and innovation into the school system.

A report by the governor’s budget office shows the state is spending more per student on the poorest schools. But advocates say the figures do not take into account the disparity in local taxes, where poor districts have lower collections of local property taxes.

Meanwhile, representatives of charter schools came to the Capitol. They are also seeking money.

Kyle Rosencrantz is with the Northeast Charter Schools Network. His group collected 4,800 signatures from parents and teachers at charter schools, asking for more money in the new state budget to build more schools, known as facilities aid. He says the schools see the lack of money as the biggest impediment to creating more charter schools. He would also like to see a cap lifted on the number of charter schools allowed in New York.

Rosencrantz says the charter school action was not timed to coincide with the rally, and is merely a coincidence.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.