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THE BEST PUBLIC EDUCATION IN AMERICA
Public education is the foundation of democracy. That’s why so many members of the founding generation in America promoted free public education. I was lucky to have the chance to attend great public elementary and high schools. My first real job out of college was as a special education aide in a rural public school. I know from personal experience that strong public schools are essential not just to learn the skills and gain the confidence needed to thrive in today’s economy, but to build the knowledge and experience every citizen requires to become a full participant in political society.
Governor Cuomo has abandoned our public schools. His drastic budget cuts are short- sighted and entirely unnecessary. Under his tenure, class sizes have swollen to record levels, depriving students of the attention they need. New York school districts have had to eliminate tens of thousands of educator positions, amounting to more than 10 percent of the entire teaching workforce. This means schools have had to slash art, music, and sports, among other programs.
What makes this even more outrageous is that Governor Cuomo did not make these cuts because state coffers were empty. He made these cuts so he could cut the taxes of New York’s wealthiest individuals, of New York’s wealthiest banks, and of New York’s wealthiest corporations. Worse yet, after intentionally starving New York’s public schools, Governor Cuomo charged New York’s public school teachers with failing New York’s students. He then used this charge to justify calling for the privatization of schools and for the imposition of draconian testing requirements.
One of the prime duties of the governor of New York is to safeguard our public schools from any private interest that threatens their public purpose. Yet Governor Cuomo, in his four years in office, has rarely even visited a public school. As Governor, I would dedicate myself every day to restoring New York’s public schools to their rightful place as the best in the nation. Specifically, I would pursue the following five strategies:
a. Full and Equal Funding for Public Education
New York spends $8,700 less per pupil in poor districts than we do in rich ones. That makes New York the sixth most unequal state in all America when it comes to school funding. This also means that New York is in violation of its own Constitution, which requires the government to provide a “sound, basic education” to every student, no matter his zip-code. I believe this constitutional obligation should be our floor, not our ceiling. New Yorkers have a right to demand the best public schools in the nation, with small class sizes, arts, and physical education for every child.
I would work to make funding more fair and equitable. Despite a promise to the contrary, Governor Cuomo has actually widened the funding gap between poor and wealthy districts.
b. End High-Stakes Testing
Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we’ve seen a culture of test-and-punish overthrow actual teaching and real learning. New York State entirely botched the implementation of Common Core, which has ushered in an unrelenting regimen of tests. Governor Cuomo’s system of basing teacher evaluations on student tests has corroded actual learning.
We should slam the brakes on the barrage of high-stakes testing. This means halting both the new Common Core tests and tests that are part of the teacher evaluation system. We need to undertake a thorough reevaluation of all high stakes tests, with full input from educators and parents.
c. Protect Against Privatization
Governor Cuomo has promoted a private takeover of public education policy, by opening state coffers up to charter schools, which serve only three percent of New York’s students. In New York City, meanwhile, he has mandated that city taxpayers pay rent for privately run charter schools to the tune of $11,000 per pupil, thus fueling their massive expansion at the expense of public schools.
We should protect our public schools from privatization schemes, including the diversion of state funds to private schools through vouchers or back-door tax credits. We should repeal provisions enacted in 2014 that hijack control of decision-making about charter school co-locations out of the hands of local governments and that mandate that New York City pay for charter school rent.
d. Empower Local Communities
I would eliminate the undemocratic provisions of the cap on local school budgets— falsely sold as a tax cap even though it caps nobody’s taxes. Specifically we should hand back to local voters the right to control their own school budgets, by eliminating the requirement of a 60 percent supermajority. We should return to the principle of one person, one vote in school budget elections.
e. Suspend the Suspension Pipeline
We must end the ‘school to prison pipeline’ where excessive use of school suspensions for minor infractions deprive students of education, leaving them behind. Suspensions actually increase behavior problems and decrease school safety. In many urban communities there is a school suspension crisis—with huge racial inequalities in suspension rates. Greater suspension rates lead to higher expulsion rates and to increases in school-based arrests. This cycle starts with high suspension rates for young students, even as young as pre-k and kindergarten. We need solutions, not suspensions. We need to transform the culture in school buildings to support teachers and students, foster collaboration, teach problem-solving, engender real responsibility and accountability and keep students in school. This approach, called “restorative justice,” has proven highly effective. Due to a local community organizing effort in Buffalo, the implementation of these reforms have already led to a 30 percent reduction in suspensions. Students cannot learn if they are not in school.