the ask

Democrats push Cuomo for more school aid

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Alliance for Quality Education Executive Director Billy Easton speaks at a press conference.

ALBANY — Before more thorny education issues divide them, lawmakers are presenting a unified front to Gov. Andrew Cuomo over state funding for public schools.

More than 80 Democrats in the state Assembly and Senate from Buffalo to New York City have signed a letter urging Cuomo to increase the state’s education spending by $1.9 billion in the 2014-2015 budget. The amount, which would amount to a 9 percent increase over this year, is far more than Cuomo has signaled he will call for in his budget proposal, which he will unveil to the legislature later this month.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has not championed big funding increases through his first four years in office, instead pressing districts to use their existing allocations more efficiently. The approach came largely as his administration confronted the aftereffects of the 2009 economic recession, which brought a total of $2 billion in state school aid cuts.

Between 2010 and 2012, schools across the state cut 35,000 teachers and staff as a result of the reduced funding, according to the Alliance for Quality Education, which organized a press conference to announce the letter.

And even though the legislature resumed funding increases two years ago, advocates say it hasn’t been enough to keep up with growing classroom costs and local mandates, let alone restore funding to its pre-recession levels. AQE has argued that at least $1.9 billion — the figure legislators called for today — is needed to restore the state to pre-recession funding levels.

In New York City, the recession brought several years of budget cuts, and schools reduced staff, increased class sizes, and trimmed arts and extracurricular programs. But unlike in many districts, no teachers were laid off, despite threats from the Bloomberg administration. Instead, the city assumed responsibility from the state for a larger share of its $24 billion budget to make up for the cuts. (The city got $364 in additional school aid last year, compared to $616 million in 2007.)

The letter’s signees represent a large swath of the state’s public education system, including rural, urban and suburban schools. More than 50 of the lawmakers represent schools in New York City.

Queens Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who chairs the education committee, argued that a surplus that Cuomo recently reported in his mid-year financial projections is evidence enough that the darkest of days are behind public schools in the state and that it’s time to fully restore school budgets.

“We’re not in the same fiscal crisis we were in in 2008, and I think it’s time to move forward on that larger pot,” Nolan said after a press conference with more than a dozen lawmakers who signed the letter.

Cuomo has indicated that he would be willing to increase school aid by about 5 percent, although only a fraction of that would go toward the general pot of funds that Nolan and other prefer. Nolan said the general funds, from which more money goes to poor school districts, is the most fair way to disburse funding in the state.

But it’s also a departure from the way Cuomo has tended to prefer funding education during his first term. Cuomo has embraced competitive grants, including $75 million added to last years budget, that districts can qualify for only if they promise to adopt certain policies or programs. The grants are funding community schools, pre-kindergarten, expanding school days, and merit pay for top-performing teachers.

Nolan said she supported Cuomo’s grants, but not at the expense of less general funding.

“This is about … putting money in the large pot, not so that state ed can pick and choose” which districts they prefer over another, said Nolan, “but that every child in every district get a fair share.”

A spokesman for Cuomo did not respond to a request for comment about the letter.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.