Seven hundred forty-three students call Franklin Elementary home every weekday in Syracuse. They start each day facing a big mirror that says, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, there’s a champion in us all.”
Even champions need help.
Some of the children shine with optimism and giggles; many carry heavy loads of poverty, trauma and mental illness.
ENL teacher Kerry Read, a member of the Syracuse Teachers Association, says she starts each day with a wish: “I wish they had a good night. I wish that they’ve had breakfast.”
She can wish, but many don’t have those things. Some kids in this snow-belt school don’t have warm coats.
“There is generational poverty and mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed and untreated,” said Syracuse TA President Bill Scott, a social worker. “We are trying to break that cycle, but we can’t meet the needs.”
Teachers and other staff have to deal with students’ social-emotional needs before they can address education, Read said, but the school only has two social workers.
They need more social workers, more academic interventionists and more teachers to reduce class sizes. One kindergarten class has 30 kids. More and more students have special education needs, as well.
Funding the budget is harder every year, and Syracuse is still waiting for $48.7 million it is owed in Foundation Aid.
“There’s no escaping the impact funding has,” said Jaime Alicea, superintendent, speaking to state lawmakers during a legislative breakfast that was part of NYSUT’s Fund Our Future bus tour today in Central New York. “We’re not asking you to spend; we’re asking you to invest,” he said.
“We need to actually have a lifeline from the state and federal government; that starts with public education,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, who joined today’s bus tour.
“We need the funding. We know the number one issue for kids right now is a safe and welcoming environment,” she said.
“Imagine what Syracuse could do with Foundation Aid,” said Andy Pallotta, NYSUT president, leading the bus tour.
NYSUT is advocating for new taxes on the ultrawealthy to help pay for education shortfalls and other needs. New York is home to more billionaires and multimillionaires than any other state, Pallotta said. “Let’s start with the billionaires,” he said.
The Fund Our Future Bus tour also stopped in Auburn today, where a changing community has thrust more needs onto schools that require far more funding to adequately help students.
Auburn is owed $6.4 million in Foundation Aid. Some class sizes have grown to 30 students — and still, there are students working at desks in hallways.
“Every space and every nook and cranny is filled,” said high school technology teacher Justin Herrling, president of the Auburn TA.
School health care professionals and teachers shared how more and more students struggle with anxiety and depression. Homelessness, poverty and fatalities from opioid addiction have altered this community.
Yet there is just one school counselor for 2,500 students, along with four social workers.
“The lack of fair funding for education across the state is the social justice issue of our time,” said Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer.
“Schools have become first and primary health care providers,” said Paul Pecorale, NYSUT vice president.
“Education is supposed to be an equalizing force,” said student Luke Piciano.
Full funding of Foundation Aid would fill the gaps, Pallotta said, and it can be afforded with new taxes on the ultrawealthy.