Rally demands funds for NYC schools

ALBANY, N.Y. — More than 2,500 New York City students, parents, teachers, City Council members and supporters came together here March 14 to demand billions of dollars in school funds that have been illegally held by Republican Gov. George Pataki and the state Legislature for years.

Students came to condemn inadequate funding and large class sizes. Music and sports have been cut beyond the seventh grade, they said, and there is a shortage of computers. Some classrooms do not even have enough chairs.

Student Jessica Lee said, “We lobbied last year and nothing has changed. So we are here today to get real change. Now. We want these changes not just for us but for the future kids.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, set the tone for the day: “What we have in common is so much bigger that what divides us.”

The contingent marched to the Capitol steps, rallied and then lobbied legislators.

Madhuri Kumar, a school consultant, told the World, “It’s important for students to be involved directly with the legislative process. It’s important for them to know they have power.”

Three years ago, state Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse ordered the state to give NYC schools an additional $5.63 billion yearly in operating aid and $9.2 billion for facilities. The state has violated the order by not appropriating the funds, and Pataki has appealed DeGrasse’s decision.

For years, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to challenge Pataki. Last November, Bloomberg maneuvered to keep a referendum on smaller class sizes off the ballot, but feeling public pressure, he has now asked for extra funding.

The Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, which represents parent associations of every NYC school, decided to lobby independently from the city’s Department of Education this year to send a message of protest against Bloomberg’s educational policies.

House Majority Leader Sheldon Silver said Bloomberg should tell the governor to drop his appeal on the funding. Silver urged those present to work to elect a Democratic governor and help swing the state Senate from Republican to Democratic.