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Op-Ed

We must protect Long Island’s schools

Posted

There is a storm brewing, and your child’s school is in its cross hairs.

It’s not a hurricane or a tornado. It’s a fiscal tsunami, and it’s going to devastate the education system on Long Island unless Albany steps up and acts.

Too many of our school districts were already in dire fiscal straits due to decades of austerity before the economic experts released their forecasts of even more funding cuts. This is especially true for schools in Black and brown neighborhoods. For years, students in these classrooms have lacked up-to-date materials, technology and other basic resources, so it’s no wonder these districts have been the first to feel the effects of this oncoming storm. The Copiague Board of Education pink-slipped dozens of staff members just a week before students were set to return to class.

And this is just the beginning. The wind is picking up. Dark clouds are forming. Things are looking grim.

But don’t worry. This particular storm isn’t a force of nature that we are powerless to stop. This is a human-caused financial calamity to which there are sensible solutions. First, however, we have to examine how our “leaders” got us into this mess.

It’s not news to anyone that New York, like the rest of the nation, is in economic turmoil because officials at both the state and federal levels failed to adequately respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 25,000 people in our state and left millions jobless.

In response to New York’s fiscal distress, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature approved a budget earlier this year that cut $1.1 billion in state aid from schools. Long Island schools lost a total $49.4 million.

But it gets worse. Here’s how Copiague Public Schools Superintendent Kathleen Bannon explained the dire situation that every district is facing: “On Aug. 20, the district received a state aid payment for the 2019-20 school year that was 20 percent less than expected. Along with that payment was a notice that all future state aid payments would also be reduced by 20 percent.”

These aren’t just numbers in a spreadsheet. Your children’s education, and therefore their future, is on the chopping block. Far too many of Long Island’s bright young minds have been forced to attend schools that are criminally underfunded, and these cuts will further pulverize their chances at receiving a quality education.

So, will Long Island’s state legislators stand by and let this happen, or will they fight for the children of Long Island? It’s time to act to stop this fiscal tsunami in its tracks, because we shouldn’t play politics with our kids’ education.

We are proposing a four-pronged approach, and the first prong can and should be done immediately: The state must dip into its rainy-day fund, because it’s pouring out there. We can’t weather a storm with an umbrella full of holes.

Secondly, class is now in session, so the State Legislature should be in session, too. Cuomo has been circumventing democracy and playing games with the budget, which has caused unimaginable uncertainty and instability in school districts and municipalities. This has to stop. He needs to produce a real plan that lawmakers can work with to avoid more cuts at all costs. If he fails to do so, state legislators must immediately reconvene to stop the bleeding themselves, and they can do that by passing measures to make ultra-millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share.

Albany needs to stop giving New York’s wealthiest residents a free ride. The rich have profited handsomely during the epidemic, earning enough during the public health crisis alone to close the state’s budget gap. New York’s cash-strapped families can’t be the only ones forced to make sacrifices.

This isn’t a partisan issue. An overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support raising taxes on the rich, which lawmakers should remember when it’s their turn to cast a vote on legislation, because voters will surely remember who acted and who didn’t when Election Day comes around.

Third: All options should be on the table to raise necessary revenue and avoid exacerbating this crisis with more cuts. So Cuomo also has a duty to consider short-term borrowing from the New York Federal Reserve Bank’s Municipal Liquidity Facility.

And, last, we can’t let the federal government off the hook. It needs to get its act together, stop all the partisan bickering and send relief to the state and local communities. Sadly, recent events have made clear that the State Legislature can’t just sit on its hands and wait for Washington.

For the sake of suffering New Yorkers, Cuomo and state lawmakers must act now.

Lisa Tyson is the director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.