Hundreds of school districts across the state compiled long scrolls listing what they no longer have.
From the far western reaches of Buffalo to the eastern Long Island Town of Riverhead, districts have lost: Art teachers and supplies, music classes and instruments, foreign language offerings, librarians, social workers, guidance counselors, after- school programs, sports and entire elementary and middle schools.
Combine these losses with the onerous property tax cap, which severely restricts the ability to raise taxes to maintain current programs, and districts have no choice but to cut even deeper into programs students need.
Unatego High School student Ryan Carson was one of several students among the 700 parents, NYSUT members, school administrators, community activists and school board members — all part of the Educate NY Now! coalition — from across New York who rode buses to Albany in December to draw attention to the sacrifices their schools are making, and will continue to make if cuts continue.
"Students should not have to worry about the demise of their own school district," Carson said. "They should be playing soccer and basketball and be out on dates."
"We are a normal average school district ... that offers the core programs. Nothing more and nothing less," Carson told the group, adding the district's one foreign language course and three Advanced Placement courses are at risk.
"The things that they are cutting are the exact things that make kids want to go to school," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta told the crowd. "That is wrong!" He pledged that NYSUT will "fight to make sure every child in this state has an excellent education."
NYSUT joined Educate NY Now! last spring. The coalition of 50 groups says schools face an educational crisis. Despite an $805 million funding increase in 2012, three consecutive years of devastating budget cuts by Albany have slashed state support for public education by more than $3 billion.
Cuts in funding mean a sound, basic education cannot be provided, speaker after speaker at the Albany rally said. "We are taking away key and fundamental underpinnings of democracy" by defunding public schools, because they give "all kids, regardless of where they come from, a fair shake," said South Colonie Superintendent Jonathan Buehner.
Before the rally, a statewide bus tour provided students and parents a chance to talk about cuts in stops in Buffalo, Batavia, Olean, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Hornell, Naples, Elmira, Binghamton, Otego, Canton, Broadalbin-Perth, Mayfield, Yonkers, Kingston, Cohoes, South Colonie, Troy, Greenville, Hauppague, Massapequa and New York City.
"Cutting funds for our school is not cool," read the scroll created by students at Clifford Middle School in Kingston. Students Alyssa Dann, Vanessa Hill, Maggie Noe and Sophia Garelick took turns listing cuts such as:
Music lesson groupings used to have four students but now have 12.
No more middle school lacrosse and high school basketball.
Gone: A full-time librarian who knew all the kids in the school and recommended books to them.
Lost: Special help for kids who need it.
Teacher Jennifer Harris was part of a large contingent from Geneva city schools in Ontario County; the district has cut more than 100 positions and 30 programs in recent years. "Our kids are suffering, and we want a fair and equitable education for our students," she said.
The Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association came with several scrolls — the needs there could not be contained on just one. "Larger class sizes have created many additional challenges" read one portion. "27 kindergarteners : 1 Bathroom = Multiple Accidents" read another.
To find out about next steps for the campaign, visit www.educatenynow.org.