Two education-oriented activist groups have embarked upon a statewide tour of schools to "gather evidence" in preparation to file a new lawsuit against New York. At issue, they say, is the state’s failure to fulfill its constitutional obligation of providing every student with a “sound basic education.”
The Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity are taking a “fact finding tour,” visiting schools and trying to find "what's missing" at those hallowed halls of learning.
Wendy Lecker, senior attorney with the Campaign For Fiscal Equity Project at the Education Law Center, says the groups are touring schools across New York "...in order to gather evidence of resource deficiencies that are direct results of the state's failure to fulfill its constitutional obligation to adequately fund its public schools."
The fact-finders were in Cohoes and Hoosick Falls Monday. Cohoes has jettisoned several programs, including summer school. Superintendent Robert Libby says his district has been forced to pack more students per classroom, after Cohoes lost $6.8 million under New York's Gap Elimination Adjustment. More than 20 percent of the staff has been eliminated over the last four years. Libby worries about those high-schoolers who might have mined interests in different types of classes that cuts have rendered no longer available. And he adds, "It gets deeper than that... not only are we losing curriculum classes, but we're losing co-curriculum opportunities for students at the middle-school and high school level. Our numbers of clubs and activities have been reduced to the bare minimum. Typically, they are simply the student leadership kinds of things, student council, National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society. And that's about it. We used to have art programs after school through clubs, literature programs after school through clubs..."
Libby is troubled by the continuing loss of state aid and its impact on Cohoes students as they try to compete in a high-stakes region. Libby notes, "We are in the middle of Tech Valley," (home to both the Nano College and GlobalFoundries) , and he fears for students' futures - that they won't be ready for college. "We should be turning kids out who are ready for those tech jobs. It's difficult for us to even transport youngsters to Malta [Global Foundries] or to the SUNY facility in downtown Albany to get to those programs."
Alliance For Quality Education director Billy Easton says the groups are touring 15 school districts over the course of the week. "The students are the ones that are paying the price. Hoosick Falls had to make similar cuts to programs and teachers. This is an educational crisis."
Easton says when the tour concludes the groups will report to the state legislature, and they'll be ready to proceed with a lawsuit against the governor and the state.
Today the tour (on Twitter #CFETour) stops in Schenectady and Amsterdam. Visits are planned later this week to school districts in Westchester, the mid-Hudson Valley, Genesee Valley, Mohawk Valley, the Southern Tier and Long Island.