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OPINION: NY City Council must do more for public schools

December 14, 2015 By Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Photos courtesy of Cagle Cartoons
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Last week, New York ‘s City Council overwhelmingly voted to pass Intro 065, a bill that will funnel $19.8 million of public money to private and religious schools for the purpose of hiring security guards. Bill sponsor Councilmember David Greenfield called the private school handout “important public policy.” He also lambasted dissenters with the comment that the city is “flush with cash.”

It won favor, in a vote 43 to 4, with the argument that all students deserve to feel safe. But our city students also deserve a quality education, something that the City Council is failing to support with its favoring of private schools over public schools.

Greenfield dismissed skeptics saying that the city’s glut of cash allows flexibility in spending. He also insinuated that there is more than enough money to cover public schools. So what’s the problem with bestowing several million onto private schools?

There are plenty of problems. The main one is this: Our city’s public schools are ailing financially. And this has resulted in staggering inequities between public schools and those of well-heeled private schools.

New York City public schools, despite their best efforts to expand programs and opportunities like Career and Technical Education classes and afterschool activities for their students, have been limping along for decades.  Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the state, which owes the city’s public schools $2 billion in Campaign for Fiscal Equity funding. If New York City is rolling in riches, as Greenfield states, why then is the City Council not easing the burden of our cash-strapped public schools?

This is vital because lack of educational opportunity limits potential. Countless students attend schools with outdated technology or no technology at all. Arts and music programs have been cut and the lack of resources and opportunity for growth has caused many quality teachers to opt for a different district or a different career. Some schools are so overcrowded that students are relegated to classrooms in trailers. 

How about the cash-flush City Council funding a free lunch program, musical instruments or computers for our public schools students? How about paying for guidance counselors to help students apply for college to pursue their dreams—we have a scarcity in New York City with only one counselor for every 200 students. 

There is also a constitutional question. Doesn’t funding private schools with public dollars violate our founders’ tenet of separation of church and state? This blurring of lines, between public and private, sets up our city for more funding of pet projects where the trail of public money might not be able to be followed. 

Furthermore, it’s shameful that our City Council leaders would fold under the pressure of private and religious schools.

While the City Council fawns over private schools, our public school children battle some of the biggest disparities in the state, perhaps in the nation. Half of our public school children live in poverty. Don’t they deserve a chance to dig out?

Finally, all this comes at a time when private and religious schools are lobbying hard at the state level for a tax credit that would cost taxpayers $250 million a year. The City Council’s unprecedented vote opens the floodgates for well-endowed private schools to continue to eat away at the public coffers.

Our City Council should be insisting that public dollars are reserved for public schools. A City flush with cash should provide more opportunities for all children, not just those who are politically well-connected.

Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education

The Alliance for Quality Education is a coalition whose mission is to mobilize communities across the state to keep New York true to its promise of ensuring a high quality public education to all students regardless of zip code.

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