When I heard that the New York City Department of Education would consider a classroom safe to reopen if it included one open window, I thought immediately of the Brooklyn classroom where I used to teach. The windows all had broken springs, and so would shut unexpectedly. Three years ago, when I asked for replacements, our building manager laughed. After a window in a nearby classroom slammed shut on a child’s fingers, I asked to drill the windows in my room closed.
Now, those same windows are some of the few safety measures protecting that class from COVID spread.
Days before school began, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city, the nation’s largest public school system, would follow a delayed reopening schedule, after principals across the city called for more resources and time to plan. The mayor cited staffing shortages for the delay, while teachers raised the alarm about the lack of ventilation in schools.
De Blasio has bungled the reopening plan many times over. This weekend, the executive board of the principals’ union announced a unanimous vote of no confidence in his leadership. Still, both City Hall and Albany share responsibility for the crisis we find ourselves in today.
Many New York City schools are not safe to reopen. But the truth is that they were never safe. The pandemic has brought to center stage a host of smaller injustices that all trace back to the same origin: Gov. Cuomo refuses to fully fund our public schools, while de Blasio and too many New Yorkers stand idly by.
Schools within New York City do not receive equal funding. Chancellor Richard Carranza knows this well, and so, he has suggested that schools tight on classrooms fund outdoor learning spaces through PTA money. This comment marks a new low for an administration that has long abdicated responsibility as wealthy parents turn select schools into fundraising powerhouses.
During the 2018-2019 school year, P.S. 321 in Park Slope raised $1.16 million dollars, which paid for arts teachers, teaching assistants and smaller class sizes. Two blocks away at Park Slope Collegiate, where I taught for five years, the PTA that same year raised $10,628. My colleagues and I relied on Donors Choose campaigns to cover the cost of field trips and classroom laptops.
This fall, our college counselor has set up a Donors Choose campaign to buy individual hand sanitizers for students. The mayor has cut $707 million from the 2021 city education budget, but cash-strapped teachers will still try to keep our children safe.
The only way to guarantee safe schools is for the state to fully fund them. And fortunately, we know how. In 2006, New York State courts ruled that Albany had failed to provide a “sound basic education” in city schools and must provide an additional $1.93 billion each year. Soon after, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the state Legislature established a formula to determine the minimum funding amount owed each New York student. As recently as 2019, activists have called on Cuomo to provide as much as $4 billion still missing for schools statewide.
As we face an economic crisis, with tax revenue falling off the cliff and many businesses struggling to survive, $4 billion may seem like an impossible demand.
And yet, we have options. State legislators have already introduced 14 bills that would raise taxes on New York’s wealthiest. These proposals range from increasing the state income tax rate on the super-wealthy to taxing corporate stock buybacks. Each one could raise billions of dollars.
But Cuomo hesitates to tax the rich. Instead, he argues, the only fair solution will be federal legislation. Yet federal relief seems less likely than ever, as President Trump threatens to withhold funds to newly-designated “anarchist jurisdictions,” including New York City. As Congress continues to debate a second stimulus package, our students cannot wait. New York must take bold action now to right the wrongs of the past.
In May, after a few weeks of remote learning, Jimmy Fallon wrote a song that called for billion-dollar paychecks and month-long spa days for teachers. It made me smile, even as my union warned us to brace for layoffs. Months later, furloughs and layoffs are imminent, even as the most recent reopening plan calls for thousands of additional teachers.
When teachers protested school reopenings, or worked from their school’s sidewalk, know that they were asking for what we all hold dear: the safety of our schools and children. We know how to provide it. Over 100 state Senate and Assembly elected officials support raising taxes on the wealthy.
Cuomo must follow their lead and commit to fully funding our schools. The children of New York deserve nothing less.
Konrad taught high school history for five years in Brooklyn and now studies urban policy at NYU Wagner
source : nydailynews