Last minute push for school aid amid voter dissatisfaction

Mar 25, 2014

Education funding advocates, including actress Cynthia Nixon, made a last-minute pitch for extra money for schools in the state budget. Meanwhile, a new poll finds many New Yorkers think the quality of education in the state is deteriorating.

"Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon has a child entering college as well as one in kindergarten. She says Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education policies in New York have increased inequality and led to two separate school systems within public schools, one for the rich and one for the poor.

“This is not the Andrew Cuomo I voted for,” said Nixon.

Cuomo has argued repeatedly that New York spends more on education than any other state, with disappointing results, and that simply spending more money is not the answer.

But Nixon says that number is skewed and the real number to examine is not how much New York spends, but how the funds are distributed. 

“We are number five out of 50 states, in terms of how that money is spent inequitably and unfairly,” Nixon said.

She says the wealthy Jericho School District on Long Island spends $18,000 more a year on each student that does the school district in rural upstate Ilion.

Nixon appeared with Alliance for Quality Education, a group that receives partial funding from the teachers’ unions.

The groups are urging state lawmakers to put more money for schools in the budget. Cuomo has proposed increasing school aid by $800 million in the new state budget, and lawmakers have requested a few hundred million more. But the advocates say the amount of the increase should be closer to $2 billion.  

In a statement, Cuomo's spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, "The governor’s priority is providing education funding based on the number of students it helps, not growing the education bureaucracy to serve the demands of the special interests. It makes no sense to provide more funding to school districts that now have fewer students based on a budget from six years ago."

Azzopardi adds that the governor has also proposed a $2 billion education bond act to build more classrooms.

A new poll finds many New Yorkers share the group’s distress over the direction of education, if not the desire for more money to be spent.

The survey by Siena College finds only 15 percent of those polled think the quality of education has improved under Cuomo, while 41 percent think it’s gotten worse and 38 percent say it’s unchanged.

The survey asked about other issues too, including the state’s business climate, government corruption, and tax policy, and found that few voters think things have improved in those areas. Cuomo received relatively high marks only in the area of ensuring equal rights for New Yorkers, but even then only around one third say it’s gotten better.

Siena’s Steve Greenberg says the key question underlying those sentiments is whether New Yorkers think their own personal finances have improved during the time Cuomo has been governor.

Greenberg says the question is essentially the same one candidate Ronald Reagan asked of Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential candidate, “are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

“We asked voters, ‘has the economic well being of you and your family improved, stayed the same or gotten worse since Cuomo’s been governor,’” Greenberg said. “Only 19 percent said it’s improved.”

The governor’s job approval rating for the first time is less than 50 percent, with only 46 percent saying he’s doing a good job.

Nevertheless, Cuomo still has a high personal approval rating, and two thirds still believe he’s been effective as governor. He would win reelection by double digits against his nearest opponent. His likely Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, is relatively unknown and faces a severe fundraising disadvantage.