Regina Eaton (Executive Director, the Alliance for Quality Education). Albany Times Union. 6/10/2001.
While the state budget is late, the state coffers are full. This mix can provide a recipe for solving New York's most pressing social problem -- ensuring a sound basic education for children across our state.
This is the opportunity that our state's students, parents and educators have been waiting for. The landmark decision by state Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse ordered the state Legislature to reform the state education finance system by Sept. 1. An appeal by the governor has put the decision on hold. Is this going to be a classic case of justice delayed, being justice denied, again?
When the DeGrasse decision was announced, so many parents of children in our public schools thought things might change. But change is rare in Albany, and the hope that was generated by the legal process has been frustrated by the same legal process.
The defendants -- the governor and the Legislature -- were to appear before the court this Friday describe the progress of these reforms. Unfortunately, there is no progress to report. When the state appealed the decision, it also stopped the clock. Ironically, if the order were still in effect, the court may have been in the enviable position to do something that seems almost impossible in Albany these days: Get all three leaders together to discuss at least one part of the budget.
Yet, the governor and legislative leadership do not have to wait for the appeal process to be completed. They can and should act immediately and start reforming the financing system for education in light of the DeGrasse decision. Now, while the state has a surplus. This is the time to begin to make the necessary corrections. This is not the time to continue to engage in the usual delaying tactics.
Even before the court decision, New York state established new higher learning standards for every child. The state now requires students and schools to pass fourth- and eighth-grade tests, and requires that every high school student pass five Regents exams in order to graduate. Our children and schools have to meet the new standards, yet the governor and Legislature have not provided the necessary school aid to make this possible.
Now is the time to change the school aid formula so every child gets: a sound basic education, a qualified teacher, a safe and modern classroom, a smaller class and the benefits of early childhood education programs.
Only when every school has the resources to provide every child with these crucial ingredients of a sound basic education will our children achieve at the high levels required by the state's own mandates.
The Assembly has proposed a significant increase in state aid to schools, and has taken a strong stand in favor of responding to the court decision and meeting our children's needs. While the Senate proposed less funding than the Assembly, the Senate budget also provides a significant increase to meet the needs of our children. In contrast, the governor first proposed almost no increase in school aid, and now says he is prepared to hold out for no state budget this year rather than spend the money desperately needed by schools throughout the state.
The governor has stated he wants to save the surplus for a rainy day. But when you visit many of our schools around the state you begin to understand it is raining now -- sometimes literally from leaking roofs, on the heads of our children while they sit in class. We cannot wait until we lose another generation of children. Our children need a quality education now.
History has shown us that without all three parties coming together to negotiate there cannot be meaningful reform. We urge the governor to show leadership and bring the two houses of the Legislature together to pass a budget that funds a quality education for the sake of our children.
Regina M. Eaton is executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a statewide coalition of more than 150 organizations representing parents, children's advocates, schools, teachers, clergy, labor unions, business leaders and others.