Hundreds of school children, parents and union members held a rally and sit-in at the state Capitol to build momentum for more spending on schools in the state budget.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was the highest-ranking lawmaker to speak to the crowd. He jumped right into an issue that might prove controversial -- expanding access to pre-kindergarten to all children in New York. Silver, who first advocated for universal pre-K several years ago, is a backer of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to provide full access to pre-K. Silver says he wants to take that plan and “bolster it, expand it, and make it sustainable for future generations.”
But there’s a growing disagreement over how to pay for pre-K. Mayor de Blasio would like to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it, and is seeking permission from the legislature to impose the taxes. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is focusing on cutting taxes, wants the state to come up with the money for pre-K another way.
Silver, a strong ally of de Blasio who also needs to work with Cuomo, is trying to stay out of the argument for now. He says he’ll wait and see the governor’s budget first, to see the details of how he proposes to pay for it.
“The governor claims he can do it,” Silver said.
But Silver says he thinks school aid should be increased, especially for poorer schools in urban and suburban districts.
“Our goal is to get as much money as we can,” said Silver, who believes schools have lagged behind due to deep cuts in recent years.
A couple hundred of the protesters held a brief sit in outside Cuomo’s offices, singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” They heard from students whose schools have been affected by spending cuts.
Trinh Truong attends public high school in Utica and says recent cuts at her school included sports teams and college counselors. She also says she and her fellow students were forced to hold a fundraiser in order to buy materials they needed for their chemistry lab class.
“The disparity between schools like mine and schools that are glowing ivory towers is unconstitutional," she said. “Students should not have the responsibility of selling coupon books to fund their science projects.”
Overall, the groups are seeking $1.9 billion more for schools. Cuomo has said he wants to increase spending on education by as much as four to five percent from last year. Cuomo also wants to begin a $2.2 billion tax cutting program to reduce business and property taxes.
One of the organizers of the event, Billy Easton, with the Alliance for Quality Education, says the governor and the legislature should not sacrifice school aid in favor of tax cuts.
“It’s more important that we fund our schools than we provide another tax cut that is primarily targeted to the wealthy and corporations,” Easton said.
Cuomo will outline his budget on January 21.