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Ira Shor, a professor at the City University of New York, read that the state has an unexpected surplus of $5 billion. What should be done with this windfall?
“Here’s a scary thought: New York State’s politicians suddenly have an extra $5 billion to spend,” began a NY TImes editorial January 15. “Albany’s treasury is fat with the state’s share of fines paid by financial institutions for past misconduct.” The Times’ editors warn against wasting this windfall from crooked banks and insurance companies on “politicians’ pet projects.” With NY’s government long-designated by the Times as one of the most corrupt state governments around, the Times proposes some good places for the feckless politicians to spend the cash. Sadly but not surprisingly, public education does NOT show up on this newspaper’s list for worthy investments of the windfall.
The Times’ good uses for the money include drinking-water and waste-water infrastructure, capital infusion into New York City’s mass transit used by 8.7 million daily, long-overdue road and bridge repairs, and buying up farmland to protect against commercial development, but the great need for higher public education funding is ignored. This is especially outrageous given that NY State was ordered in 2006 by Appellate and Supreme Courts to supplement habitually under-funded NY City schools by several billion dollars a year, following a 13-year lawsuit finally won by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, only to be tossed aside when the State claimed fiscal distress after the Wall St. collapse of 2008.
How could public education use this sudden windfall? Smaller class size for starters, ably argued for years by a hero of public schools, Leonie Haimson. Small classes especially enable close teacher-mentoring important for closing the racial gap. Moreso, the windfall could finance teachers’ aides in every classroom who enhance teaching and learning. The $5 billion could also go for wrap-around social services which our poorest students much need— winter-coats and eyeglasses, as well as school-based nurses, social workers, psychologists, guidance staff, and college counselors. If the windfall was used simply and finally to house our record number of homeless families and children, that too would be a benefit to our public schools where most of these children attend.
Instead, NY Gov. Cuomo has imposed hardships on public schooling, especially on NY City, thanks to a State law compelling the City to finance buildings for all privatized charter schools, in a City where real estate is astronomical. In recent years, the State as well as the City found hundreds of millions to subsidize private sports arenas but not for investing in public education or in homeless housing. The Times should be the first to remind the Governor and the State legislature of these needs and of prejudicial policies against public education. The teachers’ unions should have been already protesting the failure to include education in the windfall agenda.
This dismissal of public education continues the long-term hollowing-out of the public sector, undermining the capacity of our public schools, directly enhancing the position of even weak private charters, which in today’s policy climate are lavishly over-funded and startlingly under-regulated.