A day after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his budget, the Alliance for Quality of Education and Citizen Action of New York held eight rallies across New York Wednesday, including one in Kingston, calling on Albany to increase state funding for education.
Demonstrators braved the bitter cold as they stood outside the Kingston Board of Education office at 21 Crown Street, up in arms because Governor Cuomo's spending plan includes a $608 million increase in education funding, an amount that falls far short of the $1.9 billion that legislators and advocates had called for to get back on track with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and to start closing the opportunity gap between rich and poor schools.
AQE says the $1.9 billion is required to maintain current programs, and restore many others that were cut over the past five years. Kortnee Rumph of West Hurley says he knows the struggle young students are going through – he labels Cuomo's spending plan "misleading." “It sounds good, but it’s not really what we need. You just basically placated us. You’re saying what we want to hear, so it feels like we’re getting what we need.”
The good-government groups say New York is ranked fifth in the nation in inequity of educational opportunities. Imogene Simmons is the parent of an Onteora High School student. She feels the governor isn't doing his job. "He's sayin' one thing but when you look at it he hasn't made education a priority." I know my son is 19-years old, he's a special education student. He's been really deprived of the resources he's supposed to get. And he's 19-years old, in eleventh grade. And that's due to not enough employees, not gettin' the individual attention."
Although the Ulster County Legislature has commended Cuomo's decision to make full-day pre-kindergarten available to school districts statewide, former Middletown Board of Education President Vince Crescenzo says when it comes to universal pre-K, Cuomo's math doesn't add up to anything near "universal." He favors New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan. "In the first year 100 million dollars would only cover 7,784 4-year olds. By contrast the de Blasio plan would invest 385-million in pre-K this year for New York City. It would take 4 years for Governor Cuomo's proposal to equal this amount."
Woodstock resident Toni Weidenbacher suggests communities must work together to make changes. "Yes you need money, yes you need dedication. You need to have a budget where everything that can be bought that is needed is there. But then you have to have school boards and principals who are not thinking of their careers, but are thinking of the children and what they need so this money is spent wisely."
AQE and Fair Funding for Our Schools are planning to hold a morning rally at the end of the month at a school in Middletown, the exact location to be determined.
Educators hope funding will be increased to $1.9 billion before lawmakers reach a budget deal in time for the start of the new fiscal year on April 1.