Report details New York’s slide toward inequality under Gov. Cuomo education budget

By Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education

Gov. Andrew Cuomo got the attention of public school advocates across the Empire State when he campaigned as “the Great Equalizer” for schools that would not be afraid to steer money from wealthy districts to poor under-resourced districts.

It seemed reasonable to believe that as a self-proclaimed progressive candidate he would continue to keep New York schools on the path to equity started in 2007 after the successful Campaign for Fiscal Equity school funding lawsuit.

Gov. Cuomo has not only failed to deliver on that promise, but a new report details just how far in the other direction the state has gone since he was elected.

The $1.3 billion in cuts in this year’s education budget represent the third highest per-pupil spending reductions of any governor in the nation and the highest of any Democratic governor. But this pill is particularly bitter because those cuts helped fund a Cuomo-backed tax break for our state’s wealthiest residents.

With this new report we can see that these budget cuts are hitting poor districts the hardest, where the cuts are two to three times as large as they are in wealthy districts.

State spending reductions in poor districts come to about $843 per pupil. To put that in perspective, that amounts to a cut of $21,075 for a classroom of 25 students. We are not talking about small change, folks.

As a result, class sizes across the state have gone up this fall in 63 percent of school districts. Some districts had to reduce kindergarten or pre-kindergarten from full-day to half day. Large numbers of districts made cuts to summer school, art, music, and honors or advanced placement courses that are essential to competitive college applications and preparation. 

Statewide, 11,000 teachers, librarians, guidance counselors and other school positions were eliminated this year.

These cutbacks could not come at a worse time for our children.

We just found out that a total of 1,325 elementary, middle and high schools and 123 districts statewide have been identified for improvement under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The number of schools and districts that were newly identified for improvement is unprecedented for our state.

Also, according to a recent report from New York City’s Education Department, three-quarters of New York City students who were high school freshmen in 2006 did not leave high school prepared for college.

How can we continue to justify such cuts amid such need? The answer is that we can’t. It is unacceptable for our dollars to be ripped out of classrooms through budget cuts to give tax breaks to the wealthy.

Expanding class sizes and cutting arts, music, summer school, and advance placement classes, and in some districts cutting kindergarten or pre-kindergarten to half-day, will deny some students the opportunity to get ready for college and the job market.  
New York’s parents and students are anxiously waiting on Gov. Cuomo and the legislature to renew the Millionaire’s Tax so that we can deliver a quality education to our children. Our state can afford no less.