Public schools are one of the few truly universal and public institutions we have in the United States, and it is our duty to ensure that they remain fully funded so that our children can get the public education that they deserve. However, our public schools have seen decades of cuts while inequality in education access runs rampant and is deeply racialized. All the while, billionaire interests have pushed to destroy the public school system altogether by creating charter schools. All of this has led to a crisis in our education system.
As a former public school teacher, I have seen firsthand the potential of our public schools; a quality education can tremendously impact young peoples’ lives. Early childhood education—such as 3-K, pre-K, and early child care—has the potential to address learning disparities caused by poverty, but success is often dependent on access to high-quality programs. Child care is education and that’s why I’ve proposed the Universal Child Care Act.
With children and families still feeling the impact of loss of learning during the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must double down on our efforts to reach vulnerable students and parents. I was deeply disappointed to see this years’ New York City budget make over $200 million dollars in cuts to our city’s public schools (as of this writing, the cuts have been rejected by a judge, and the DOE budget will remain the same as the last fiscal year). Still, the fact remains that in a time of crisis for our public education system, the Mayor and the City Council voted to cut desperately needed funds at a time when New York public schools are still suffering from chronic disinvestment and are owed billions of dollars.
We must address these failures head on, and commit to making sure that high-quality public education is available to every New York student. This past year, we succeeded in passing legislation that made it easier for incarcerated youth to receive diplomas (S7101), reinstated New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for incarcerated students, and allocated $1.4 billion dollars through Foundation Aid, the key progressive source of state funding for public schools.
As State Senator, I will continue to fight for:
- A New Deal for CUNY. The imposition of tuition at CUNY during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s was a direct assault on one of New York City’s most important working-class institutions. The last five decades of tuition increases and cuts show how institutionalized racism and austerity hurt working New Yorkers. The New Deal for CUNY (S4461A) would eliminate undergraduate tuition, rebuild CUNY’s crumbling facilities, end the system of adjunct exploitation, and hire much-needed mental health and advisory staff. Passing the New Deal for CUNY and eliminating tuition for undergraduates would cost $1.7 billion, less than 1% of the state operating budget.
- The “Solutions, Not Suspensions” Act. Current law controlling school discipline has been shown to have a disproportionately negative effect on students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQI+. Research shows exclusionary discipline such as suspensions and expulsions are ineffective and have long-lasting impacts on students’ academic futures and lives. One suspension in high school has been linked to students being twice as likely to drop out of school. Our current system of exclusionary discipline has led to students being held back a grade, losing critical instruction time, dropping out before graduation, and coming into increased contact with the juvenile justice system. The “Solutions, Not Suspensions” Act (S7198) would ensure that schools pursue more restorative and transformative forms of justice and accountability in an effort to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
- Task force on educator diversity in New York State. Studies have shown that students benefit when they see themselves reflected in the teachers who instruct them. New York, despite its rich diversity, is experiencing a lack of diversity among its educators. S2555A seeks to address these issues by mandating a comprehensive study on teacher diversity in New York State that will culminate in recommendations to encourage students of color to enter the teaching profession, including improving recruitment and retention efforts, reviewing the barriers that are preventing students of color from entering teaching professions, and studying initiatives that encourage teachers of color to become school leaders and administrators.
- Resources for all students. This year, the legislature can pass laws to ensure that all public K-12 schools in New York employ at least one guidance counselor, at least one professional registered nurse, and at least one social worker and clinical psychologist. It is evident that having these professionals on site at schools provides vital support to teachers and students alike and make our schools a healthier environment for all.
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