Brooklyn Boro

OPINION: Public schools are a crucial but neglected part of New York’s infrastructure

September 17, 2015 By N.Y. state Sen. Jesse Hamilton For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York state Sen. Jesse Hamilton represents the 20th District, which includes parts of Sunset Park, Park Slope, Gowanus, Crown Heights, Flatbush and Brownsville. Photo courtesy of Sen. Hamilton’s Office

Back to school season is an exciting time for the city as we prepare our students to return to the classroom and their everyday learning environment. But a looming detail that continues to hang over this season is that our public schools continue to be a part of our infrastructure that is horribly underfunded.

In 2006, the highest courts of New York ruled that the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a sound basic education. To comply with the court order, the Legislature committed to increase classroom-operating funding by an additional $5.5 billion statewide. But ten years later, the basic needs of our students still have not been met, and many school districts are inadequately funded.

Too many of New York’s public schools are falling apart — in more ways than one.

Overcrowded schools, large class sizes, dilapidated buildings and a lack of overall resources to thoroughly educate students — all these factors create learning environments that do not prepare our young people for college and careers.

This is wrong and unacceptable.

When considering investments in our infrastructure, we must recognize that well-funded public schools can function as sources of innovation and progress. Together, smarter investments in the arts, music, physical education, libraries and technology can equip our children to succeed in the global economy and make New York stronger.

But giving students the well-rounded education they need and deserve is made all the more difficult when the fundamentals still can’t be provided in the classroom.

Just recently I hosted a back-to-school event in which we handed out free supplies while encouraging students and families to get excited about the upcoming school year.  Schools should be able to provide the integral supplies that all students need, but a lack of funding causes the take-home supply list for parents to grow every year. This is something that makes the back-to-school drives a necessity for many parents and schools alike.

While New York continues to be one of the leading states in educational funding nationwide, it is important to acknowledge that New York is also the leader in inequitable funding.

Right now, a funding gap of almost $9,000 separates high- and low-income students, and disproportionately affects communities of color. The funding required by the court decision — still unpaid — would rectify this existing inequality in public schools.

This year, I and other key legislators managed to pass $1.3 billion in aid, the largest increase in school aid since 2008 when the court-ordered Campaign for Fiscal Equity funding was being delivered. However, it still has not been enough. My district alone is still owed $62 million.

New York needs to fully recommit to students coming first. A key way to demonstrate this commitment would be following through with the court ordered $5 billion in statewide funding due to ensure every student gets a sound, basic education.

This will require millionaires, billionaires and Wall Street hedge fund managers to pay their fair share in taxes so all our students can get the schools they deserve. To get this done, we in the legislature need to act and we need the support of parents and communities statewide. 

This funding would support countless everyday citizens and their children who depend on the public education system for their future. If our public schools continue to be underfunded, we will lose the very foundation of our democracy and our future.

We can’t let that happen.

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