By Jeffrey R. Rabey
Is it just me or do we have our priorities mixed up?
In response to the NY SAFE Act, “Angry demonstrators, at least 1,000 of them traveling from Erie County on 14 packed buses, showed their frustrations in colorful signs such as ‘Cuomo has to go’ ” (Buffalo News, March 1).
Gun advocates rage against the trampling of their Second Amendment rights. Why don’t we rage at the profound trampling of our children’s constitutional rights? New York State’s constitution guarantees children a fair and equitable education. Yet for five years the state has underfunded schools by $765 million. In 2009, when the courts ordered more-equitable school funding, foundation aid was created to provide at least a 3 percent aid increase each year. Just one year later, foundation aid was frozen and the five-year “take back” of aid began. That “take back,” known as the “gap elimination,” is decimating our public schools. Where are these 14 packed buses on their way to Albany?
Pounding another nail in the coffin, Albany passed the tax cap, which further defunded schools and swept away school board control over local revenue. Heralded as a help to taxpayers, Albany looked heroic. Albany neglected to mention that local property taxes were soaring because local taxpayers picked up the tab for funding Albany took away – and for mandated expenses Albany won’t address.
The “gap elimination” take back and tax cap have fast-tracked schools to ruin. Schools are cutting programs left and right to save costs. Our children’s transcripts will be too thin for entrance to our state’s own four-year schools. Where are these 14 packed buses on their way to Albany?
Finally, in an effort to grab $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds, Albany committed to transforming our educational system into one that promotes high-stakes testing and linked those unreliable assessments to teacher performance. Albany swept away school board control over evaluation of their own teachers. Instead, that authority was given to a time-consuming, unproven system that dramatically escalates expenses for schools. This at a time when Albany took away funding that was constitutionally guaranteed. Where are these 14 packed buses on their way to Albany?
Where is the outrage? The colorful signs? The microphones and cameras? We need to take a lesson from the gun advocates and raise our voices in united outrage. Recently, in a letter to the governor, initiated by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, and signed by 17 upstate senators, the inequitable funding of schools was addressed. The letter urges the governor to restore funding to low-wealth districts that have been disproportionately impacted. This is a start, but where are these 14 packed buses from Western New York on their way to Albany?
Jeffrey R. Rabey is superintendent of the Depew Union Free School District.