“Separate & Unequal” Education in the New York State Budget: The Kerner Commission 50 Years Later

 

ALBANY, NY (February 27, 2018)—As part of a national day of actions reexamining the Kerner Commission’s landmark 1968 report, the Alliance for Quality Education joined legislators, parents, educators and community members for a press conference on systemic racism in New York State’s education budget. AQE also is participating in a national event in Washington, D.C. as part of the 50th anniversary today and tomorrow.

The 1968 Kerner Commission report found that “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” The Commission was appointed by President Johnson to investigate  the causes of the Detroit riots. 

Fifty years later, New York State has the most segregated schools in the country and ranks 49th in school funding equity, resulting in a separate and unequal educational system by underfunding schools that predominantly serve Black, Brown and poor students. Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal includes only $338 million in Foundation Aid, an amount that is woefully short of what is necessary to maintain programming and services, let alone advance equity.

“Education is one of the many areas where the problems identified in the Kerner Commission’s report persist,” said Jasmine Gripper, legislative director, Alliance for Quality Education. “In order to achieve education justice, New York State must commit to fully funding schools in Black and Brown communities. We must commit to end separate and unequal public education. We need to bring to scale research-proven strategies like universal Pre-K, community schools, high quality curriculum, social and emotional supports for students and restorative justice practices — and we can finance these solutions through taxes on the rich and big corporations. And we need Governor Cuomo to stop making excuses for why he will not fund schools with high numbers of Black and Brown students.”

New York State owes schools $4.2 billion, according to its own equitable funding formula, the Foundation Aid formula. Of that money, 74 percent is owed to schools with high concentrations of Black and Brown students. See map.

“I hope that New York State will take a leading role in breaking a historical and consistent cycle of underfunding schools attended by our most vulnerable children. There have only been a few periods of time when we have shared educational resources equally and provided the educational services and support that children in economically precarious situations need most. I hope that our legislators take the opportunity to make this moment one we can all celebrate,” said Dr. Noliwe Rooks of Cornell University, author of the recent book Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education.

“50 years ago the Kerner Commission’s report stated that, ‘our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.’ It is certainly unfortunate that a half a century later we remain hard pressed to dispute this assertion. There remain drastic inequities in public school funding, and even here in ‘progressive’ New York City, classrooms remain segregated and Black and Hispanic children are still being left behind at alarming rates. We must once and for all close the racial divide which pervades our public education system, and maintains a separate, and very unequal system,” said Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, Chairman, New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.

“This important AQE event gives us an opportunity to reflect on the recommendations of the Kerner Commission and try anew to create a more just and equal society,”said Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, Chairwoman, New York State Assembly Education Committee.

“It is unacceptable that after so many years New York’s students continue to suffer the consequences of a separate and unequal public education system. In order to make significant steps to closing the racial divide in educational opportunities, we need to take urgent action to provide students the resources they have been denied for decades,” said Senator Kevin Parker.

“Schenectady schools are owed over $44 million in Foundation Aid according to the State Education Department. That is $4,798 per student. That is $120,000 for a classroom of 25 students. Can you imagine how many social workers, school counsellors, tutors, advanced placement courses we could add with that funding? We could hire a chief diversity officer to ensure the Schenectady City schools create a successful program to recruit and retain teachers of color. We could turn every school into a community school with restorative justice programs. Do not tell me money does not matter. When Governor Cuomo has said it is not about the money that he is talking about Black, Brown and poor students, not white upper middle class students. He is talking about our children, my children, not his children,” said Jamaica Miles, parent of two children in Schenectady Public Schools and Citizen Action of New York lead organizer for the Capital Region. 

“Schenectady schools are among the most underfunded in the state and we know that schools like Schenectady with high concentrations of students of color are much more likely than schools with mostly white students to be underfunded. This is educational racism right here in New York State. We need Governor Cuomo to stop making excuses for why he will not support Black, Brown and poor students. Our children cannot stand an anemic education budget like the one Governor Cuomo has proposed,” said Rev. Horace Sanders, Jr., Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Schenectady.