At Middle Early College High School in Buffalo, where Jenae Fisher is a student, the lack of adequate state funding keeps the school from being able to update its technology, provide a music program or even keep the building open after the school day ends so that students can receive extra help.
In fact, there's not even enough money for proms, dances or pep rallies.
But, as Fisher will tell you, what her public high school does have are tests. A lot of state standardized tests.
"These tests are stressful," said Fisher, speaking Monday at the West Seneca School District offices near Buffalo as part of the "Day of Action" to reclaim the promise of public education.
"I can do really well all year and then, because of the pressure of a test or because of a bad day, I lose all of that and get pushed back," Fisher said. "I want an education. There is too much emphasis on testing and not enough on learning so I can get the education that I deserve."
Statewide today, parents, educators, unionists and community members are calling for greater state investment in public schools and colleges, a renewed focus on teaching and learning instead of testing, and a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences from state standardized tests for students and teachers.
NYSUT is advocating for state lawmakers, specifically, to commit to a $1.9 billion increase in funding for New York's public schools over the current school aid total. That hike would get the state back in line with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling that all students deserve a "sound basic education." The funding increase also would enable the state to establish community schools to address the social and health needs students have, provide universal Pre-K for all 4-year-olds, and restore vital academic and extracurricular programs that in recent years were eliminated as a result of deep budget cuts in wake of the 2008 Wall Street collapse.
The union is also demanding state lawmakers increase the investment in New York's public colleges and universities that, despite seeing dramatic enrollment spikes over the past decade, have had their state funding cut sharply.
"There is so much that needs to be fixed right now and cooler minds need to realize that we need to take a recess. That is why we are calling on our legislators and governor to immediately implement a three-year moratorium on the consequences of high states testing on both students and teachers." said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler.
Joining Cutler in West Seneca was district Superintendent Mark Crawford; Democratic state Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo; Tom Tucker, a United University Professions leader from the University at Buffalo; West Seneca Teachers Association President Joe Cantafio; NYSUT Board Member Janet Utz, parent leaders and educators.
Cutler said the moratorium is essential to provide educators and parents the necessary time to work with the State Education Department to develop the course corrections needed so the implementation of the new Common Core curriculum is done right.
"During this three-year moratorium," Cutler added, "we need to put our heads together once and for all and find a solution to the budgetary starvation of our schools in this state. A property tax cap makes for good sound bites, but it bites hard at the educational opportunity for students if it is not replaced with adequate funding for schools so class sizes can return to normal and we can offer the quality education that our students here in West Seneca and throughout the state deserve. Adequate funding is not a luxury; it is an essential ingredient to our success in education."