Monday, March 16, 2015

City Hall rally: Our Schools, our Voice and the Governor's Missed Opportunity Agenda

On Sunday at City Hall Park a rally was held hosted by Public Advocate Letitia James about the need to fight for fair funding for our schools and against the Governor's damaging education proposals. Tish was terrific as usual about the need to support and protect our schools and listen to parents and teachers but that instead, the Governor has put forward a "Missed Opportunity Agenda." .  

Other electeds and advocates who spoke eloquently included AM David Weprin and Joanne Simon, former Councilmember and lead plaintiff  in the CFE education funding lawsuit Robert Jackson, and Zakiyah Ansari of AQE.  Here is a news story; below is my speech: 

On Thursday there were a beautiful series of rallies at more than 100 schools throughout NYC in all the five boroughs.  Parents, students, and teachers held hands and surrounded their schools, in a peaceful, and even joyful symbolic action to protect their schools.  They were out there to show they are united in spirit and determined to defend against the Governor’s destructive proposals to defund, disrupt, dismantle and privatize our public school system.  Parents do love their public schools; they just want them properly supported and funded, with smaller classes and a well-rounded education, full of arts, music and science and all the things that children need to flourish.

And what was the Governor’s response?  According to his spokesperson, he called our peaceful protests “a tantrum of special interests”.  Then he said, “Frankly, the louder special interests scream — and today they were screaming at the top of their lungs — the more we know we’re right.”

Well, Governor, parents are NOT a special interest – at least in the way you meant it.  Parents have one special interest – their children, and you need to recognize that parents in NYC are fed up with the agenda of test prep, budget cuts, and punitive sanctions on our schools and teachers that we had for 12 years under Michael Bloomberg – and that failed utterly to improve our schools.  Instead we demand that you give us the support that they need – and that the state’s highest courts said was your constitutional obligation. 

I also want to warn you, the last time a state leader called parents a special interest was John King – and he was run out of the state on a rail for his arrogance and refusal to listen to our concerns.
Now the Governor has put forward many outrageous proposals as part of his budget but I want to focus on just one - his proposal to raise the charter cap– which could send 250 more charters to NYC.  This could truly be disastrous for our schools and drain even more resources and space from our already underfunded and overcrowded public schools.

Why?  Because last year in the budget, he included a clause in the law that obligates the city to provide space to new charters within our already overcrowded school buildings going forward – or pay for their rent in private spaces. 

There are severely overcrowded communities in NYC that have waited a generation to see a school built in their neighborhoods – and not to have to bus their Kindergarten children miles away.  But from now on, every new charter school can get free space on demand – at the taxpayer’s expense. 
NYC is the only district in the state, indeed the only district in the country that is required to pay for facilities for charters – whether we want them or not.  

If the cap is lifted, and 250 more charters are sent to NYC, as the Governor has proposed, it could cost taxpayers more than $800M a year in charter rent alone – money that instead should go to building more neighborhood public schools – that are not overcrowded and can offer small classes, which is the #1 choice of NYC parents.

So we ask you to fight the Governor’s destructive proposals by calling his office and your legislators as well as Speaker Heastie with four simple demands:

  1- give us the funding our schools deserve  2- Say NO to tying test scores to teacher evaluation; 3- No to giving tax credits to millions for private school tuition; and  4- NO to raising the cap on charter schools.  

We cannot allow our precious resources to be siphoned off to allow Cuomo and his billionaire hedgefund cronies  to attain their goal of privatizing our public schools.

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