Cuomo's broken promises to New York’s students 1

Cuomo’s broken promises to New York’s students

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 2, 2021) — Governor Cuomo has consistently been an obstacle to fully funding educational opportunities for New York’s children, from blocking Foundation Aid to limiting access to full day Pre-K. Instead of broken promises, the 2021-22 enacted budget is a chance to make right on those promises.

Cuomo’s opposition to funding education

When Andrew Cuomo was a candidate running for governor of New York in 2010, he said:

“There are two education systems in this state, not public private, one for the rich and one for the poor. They’re both public systems. The way we fund education through the property tax system by definition is going to be unfair, and it is. The state is supposed to equalize or come close to equalizing with its funding. That’s the CFE lawsuit which the state is yet to fully fund.”
— Andrew Cuomo, 2010 [Watch here]

After 10 years in office, Governor Cuomo has still not fully funded public schools. In fact, his staunch opposition to funding public education has caused the spending gap between wealthiest and poorest students to spike dramatically, from $8,623 per pupil in 2011 to a record high of $10,400 in 2020, a 20 percent increase. That gap puts New York second to last in school funding equity nationwide.

In 2020, the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a report urging New York to address the civil rights crisis in education, noting that, “Although it leads the U.S. in average per pupil spending, New York ranks 48th in educational equity among all states by measure of the funding gap between the districts enrolling the most students in poverty and the districts enrolling the fewest, and ranks 44th by measure of the funding gap between the districts enrolling the most students of color and those enrolling the fewest.” Its primary recommendation to address the crisis was fully funding the Foundation Aid formula.

A pattern of ever-changing excuses

The fact is that Andrew Cuomo has been on a mission to underfund high need public schools ever since his first year as Governor, when he cut over $1 billion from schools, while giving a tax break to millionaires. Cuomo’s antagonism toward school funding — including an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Foundation Aid formula from state law in 2017 — is the biggest hindrance to achieving equity for New York’s public schools. He has tried to discredit education funding as a money grab by what he called the “education monopoly,” and to pass it off as irrelevant, calling it a “ghost of the past”. He has dodged inequity by misrepresenting his record on school funding, and then, admitting that inequity is a problem, attempted to shift the blame to local districts. He has falsely claimed that the State has already fulfilled its obligation on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, and also said that it never existed in the first place.

Last year Cuomo audaciously claimed that he alone is championing educational equity, erasing decades of tireless advocacy of Black, Brown and low-income parents, students and educators. Year after year the New York State Education Department documents how far behind the State is in meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund schools. According to the latest data from NYSED schools are owed $4 billion in Foundation aid.*

Cuomo’s broken promise for universal full-day pre-K

Cuomo’s promise — and failure — to fully fund public education follows the same pattern as his rollout of universal full-day pre-K in New York State, paying lip service to the principle while working behind the closed doors of the budget process to block any meaningful progress.

In his own words in 2014:

“We’re going to have a statewide pre-K program funded by the state. That’s what we said we are going to do and that’s what we’re going to do. I said all along that we’ll fund the need. And as quickly as cities can bring it online, we will fund it.”
— Governor Cuomo, WNYC, 2014

Seven years after Governor Cuomo promised to fund full day pre-K statewide, pre-K remains unavailable to half of all four-year-olds in the state. Outside New York City, 3 out of 4 four-year-olds still do not have access to full day pre-K.

New York State is also failing to meet its legal obligation to provide a preschool special education class for every child with a disability who needs one. The State’s Pre-K expansion must include support for preschool special education programs, such as that proposed by the State Senate which would increase rates for preschool special education programs commensurate with the school aid increase for public school districts. Pre-K will never be universal if preschoolers with the most intensive needs are sitting at home due to the State’s lack of investment in preschool special education.

Underfunded Schools Confronting COVID-19

The real-world impact of Cuomo’s opposition to adequately funding public education is that state funding for public schools has barely kept up with inflation over the past decade. In 2019, as part a statewide equity tour evaluating unmet needs in education, nearly every school that took part reported having too few school counselors, social workers, school nurses, support staff; too few devices and technology; too little classroom space.

That meant that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many schools, especially those in high needs communities, were unprepared to respond to the immediate needs created by the crisis. The ongoing chaos that schools, students, parents and teachers have experienced over the past year could have been hugely reduced if public schools had been able to confront the crisis with adequate resources.

It’s time for New York to make good on its promises to students

For ten years, Governor Cuomo has stood as the primary roadblock to adequately funding education in New York. His excuses have changed, but the resulting impact on students has been relentless and severe. His miserliness on school aid has denied generations of students, particularly Black and Brown students, the opportunities and futures afforded by the quality education that is their right.

But Cuomo is now standing alone, the only party to budget negotiations that is still willing to put our children’s futures on the chopping block, using education funding as a bargaining chip for his pet projects. It is time for him to at last recognize that there is not — and never has been — any excuse that can justify compromising the education of generations of children. It is time for Andrew Cuomo to accept that New York State has a responsibility to fund its public schools, to stop shielding the profits of the wealthy and make good on the promises that the state made to students years ago. It’s time to protect students, not billionaires.


*According to the electronic back up school aid runs produced quarterly by NYSED.