The cavernous beehive of the Million Dollar Staircase in the state Capitol buzzed with excitement, chants and shouts of 1,000 activists as NYSUT and its coalition partners targeted inequality in education on a "Moral Monday."
The Alliance for Quality Education, American Federation of Teachers, Citizen Action of New York, Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, New York State NAACP, Strong Economy for All Coalition, United Federation of Teachers, and the Working Families Party joined NYSUT to challenge the governor's failing education policies.
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The public school advocates highlighted the moral and constitutional obligation to fund education fairly and equitably; and opposed the efforts of his hedge-fund billionaire campaign donors to take over public education.
"More than half of our school districts are operating today with less state aid than in 2008," said NYSUT's Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "We have 35,000 fewer educators in classrooms than six years ago. We have funding inequities that rob the most vulnerable students in the poorest districts of their right to a sound education. This is immoral. Addressing these issues and correcting these glaring inequities should be a top priority this legislative session.
"We can't allow ourselves to be distracted," Pallotta continued, repeating NYSUT's call for the governor to listen to the people's perspective. "It's why Gov. Cuomo must hold public forums to hear first-hand what students, parents and educators want for their public education system."
"If Albany wants to do right by our kids, it needs to put politics aside and address full and fair funding for all students and all our public schools," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. " It's time to stop blaming educators and, instead, come together, from Albany to New York City, to reclaim the promise of public education."
"Hundreds of thousands of New York's children are crammed into overcrowded classes in seriously underfunded schools," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "Rather than dealing with this crisis by looking at ways to raise revenues from the 1 percent, Gov. Cuomo has adopted the language of so-called 'reformers.' We have been down that road. Their so-called educational 'reforms' have failed in every community they have been tried. We need real solutions."
Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. William Barber, who established Moral Mondays in North Carolina, spoke passionately to the crowd about our moral duty to right the wrong to hundreds of thousands of New York state children who go without the quality education that is their constitutional right.
The rally highlighted the enormous inequities that have grown to record-setting levels under Gov. Cuomo, with wealthy districts now spending $8,733 more per pupil more than poor ones as documented in a new report released by the Alliance for Quality Education (PDF).
The rally was followed by a read-in in front of the governor's office where protesters read documents ranging from the state Constitution to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Dr. Seuss.
"There is an enormous inequality gap in our public schools and Gov. Cuomo has made it worse," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. "The result is students in wealthy districts having every opportunity to succeed and secure a bright future, while millions of other students in high-need districts see their opportunities shrink due to Cuomo's policies."
NYSUT President Karen Magee and other statewide and local leaders - including those representing higher ed - also attended the demonstration and spoke out against the governor's misguided education policies.