ALBANY, N.Y. (January 21, 2020) — As we await Governor Cuomo’s executive budget proposal today, the fate of New York’s students is forefront in our minds.
We reflect, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, on how much of his struggle remains with us today. While we have seen progress over the past 50 years, Dr. King’s words, writing from Birmingham Jail in 1963, are just as resonant to the circumstance of New York’s students in 2020 as they were to Black communities in the South at the time: “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”
For over a decade students have waited for New York State to fulfill its promise to equitably fund public schools, but the wait for education justice has been far longer. Generations of students have entered and left New York’s public school system while those in power pull the levers of institutional racism — through educational access, segregation, and the denial of funding to students on the basis of their ZIP code. The color of your skin and amount of wealth your community has should not determine your opportunities in life. Yet in New York State, schools that serve Black, Brown and low-income children have access to less funding than their wealthy, white counterparts. New York State has fallen $3.8 billion short of funding its public schools, and 60 percent of that funding is owed to schools with a majority Black and Brown students.
For communities like Rochester, that missing funding was made all too real and terrible this month, when the district was forced to cut over 100 educators — including a number of elementary school classroom teachers — mid-school year. The district was facing a $60 million budget hole, and had no funds left to pay the teachers. Yet New York State presently owes the district $86 million. Students returned to school after winter break to find their teachers gone, because New York State has repeatedly failed to prioritize students like those in Rochester — a district that is 70 percent students of color, and 91 percent economically disadvantaged.
New York is a plentiful state, and we boast some of the best public schools. But our state is also home to some of the poorest communities in the nation, and we are leaving them behind.
Governor Cuomo made no mention of Rochester City School District during his State of the State address earlier this month, but he did quote Dr. Martin Luther King. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King continued: “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’”
Budgets are about priorities, and the question we will be asking of Governor Cuomo as we watch his budget address today is: will you make New York’s Black and Brown students keep waiting for justice?