(Source: CNY Central)
As the weather gets deceivingly warmer, New York State lawmakers and leaders spend every February and March drafting and refining the state budget. This budget season, activists in Syracuse, New York are calling on the state government to equitably fund schools in this year’s FY22 Executive Budget.
Some of these activists are students working with their peers across the state. The DemocracyReady NY Youth Leadership Initiative is leading a campaign called Fund(ED) New York State. The student-led campaign is demanding that $4 billion be allocated to local schools across the state. They are calling on Governor Cuomo to fulfill this specifically through Foundation Aid, a funding formula that came out of the 2006 lawsuit Campaign for Fiscal Equity v.s. State of New York that state leadership has failed to live up to. Their letter to Gov. Cuomo explains that “this results in vast inequities across the state as wealthy districts are better able to make up for a lack of adequate state funding and poor districts struggle to meet their students’ needs.”
Yasmine Kanaan is a student at Nottingham High School and a Syracuse-based member of the Fund(ED) Campaign. Kanaan told me that her advocacy work has turned into a real passion. She says she’s known our schools have not been funded properly but did not understand the extent of that until becoming plugged in with the statewide group.
One of the goals of the Fund(ED) campaign is to equitably fund schools so that they are able to provide comprehensive civics education for their students. Kanaan has been able to expand her civics knowledge through active participation in this campaign. She explained that this FY22 Budget is part of a larger narrative: “We need to know the broader context, rather than oh, let’s just sign this paper. No, we need to know how long this has been going on, why it’s happening and what kind of public and government officials have been part of this.”
In the same district as Yasmine, parents are fighting for similar goals. One of these parents is Karly Grifasi, a mom of two children and the PTO President at Edward Smith K-8 School in Syracuse. Grifasi is looking at how COVID-19 has made this budget unique, specifically.
She explained the situation saying, “The Syracuse City School District has dire funding needs. Basically, federal covid relief funds will backfill some of the districts’ current deficits but will disappear in 2023. The state is using that funding to justify allocating less to the districts, with no plan or commitment for bumping back up the state contribution when we lose the federal aid.”
Grifasi knows that funding injustices in education are systemic issues that will last after we fully reopen and achieve herd immunity. She noted that her children will be attending Syracuse City Schools for ten more years. Along with the FY22 budget, Grifasi is focused on long-term legislative action, including action led by groups such as Invest in Our New York.
Invest in Our New York (IONY) is a New York State Legislative Act to increase state revenue by over $50 billion through taxing the ultra-rich living in the state. The people behind the Act, which is a package of six state bills, suggest allocating increased revenue towards funding for education. One organization on IONY’s Steering Committee is the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), a group leading the fight against inadequate funding across the state.
Pressure is high on state leadership as these advocacy groups push to see funding equity in their schools. AQE is hosting a week of virtual actions and IONY recently hosted a Solidarity Rally right in downtown Syracuse on March 20th. The state budget deadline is April 1st. Time will tell if the voices of students, educators and parents have been heard in Albany.