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October 3, 2011

To the Editor:

Many of New York’s rural schools are in danger of falling into structural deficit. The fault lies not with those districts or their boards of education, but is rather the result of harmful policy initiatives promulgated by Governor Andrew Cuomo and approved by the state legislature. Low-wealth schools around the state have already endured a round of catastrophic staff reductions, the elimination of enrichment and remedial programs and the realization that they will be unable to provide the “sound, basic education” guaranteed under the state constitution to all children. Dozens more districts will join them in 2012/13 as the full impact of an ill-conceived property tax cap, an inherently inequitable state aid distribution formula, the exhaustion of reserve funds and the lack of promised mandate relief combine to create a fiscal “perfect storm” resulting in a crushing loss of capacity and programs for schools serving hundreds of thousands of children.

Michael Rebell of Columbia University reminds us that state government has a constitutional obligation to do more than just exhort low-wealth districts to “do more with less”. Government must provide the tools and resources necessary for the delivery of a “sound basic education” for all of New York’s schoolchildren. However, according to a report issued in August by the Center for American Progress, distribution of state aid for education has actually led to a bi-modal public education system in New York. The Center characterized our state’s school funding as “highly regressive”. The report concluded that the wide variation in fiscal equity led to a circumstance where “highly regressive states are providing fewer resources to their high-poverty districts even though those districts serve many disadvantaged children with high levels of need.”

Dr. Richard Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium sums it up in the following manner, “It’s not a geographical problem, it’s an equity problem.” It’s a problem for all New Yorkers because the future of a child growing up in a multi-million dollar home in Chappaqua is inextricably linked to that of the student living in a trailer with no running water in South Dansville. Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” The education of children in low-wealth communities is a matter of social justice and conscience. Let us not be remembered in the future for our collective silence. Contact Governor Cuomo and your legislators today and demand a fair, equitable and predictable state aid formula that provides for all of New York’s public schoolchildren.

Michael Glover Genesee Valley BOCES
District Superintendent


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