“It is kind of ridiculous that these people must give up two weeks of their lives to get the money schools are entitled to,” Saugerties school board vice-president Jim Mooney said last Saturday at a rally protesting cuts to the state education budget over the past decade.
About 20 teachers, students, parents and others are marching from New York City to Albany to demand implementation of a 2006 Court of Appeals ruling that the state had failed to provide sufficient funds for quality education for all the state’s children. They marched up Main Street toward the Cahill Elementary School, chanting “Fight, fight, fight; education is a right.”
The consent agreement settling this suit called for a total of $5.5 billion in additional aid over four years, starting in 2007. The state made payments in 2007 and 2008, but when the recession hit the payments stopped, leaving a shortfall of $3.93 billion. The full sequence is laid out on the website of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE). The payments were never resumed, said Brenda Posner, a marcher from New York City. “Saugerties is owed $3.5 million, and we are walking to Albany to demand that the full formula is restored,” she said.
Mooney described the state’s action in neglecting to continue payments as “a civil-rights violation.” On behalf of the school board, he told the marchers, “I thank you for what you are doing.”
In addition to the group making the entire trek from New York to Albany, people from the communities the march passed through have joined in for one, two or more days of the ten-day, 150-mile walk.
Maria Bautista, the New York City campaign coordinator of the Alliance for Quality Education, said most of the people in the march were from the city, but some were from Albany and Long Island. The marchers were joined by residents along the way, many of them living in the towns and cities the march passed through.
Saugerties resident Luz Mooney joined the march in Kingston, returning to Saugerties. Kathy Taylor, also of Saugerties, joined the march in Highland for the leg that ended in Saugerties.
“I’ll join them again in Albany,” said Taylor, a teacher for 20 years. “It’s one way to lose a little weight, and also make a point.” Speaking to the assembled marchers, she outlined some of the consequences of lost state funding for schools.
“You lose libraries, foreign languages, art, music,” Taylor said. “Students are at a disadvantage without these classes. When children learn art and music young, they do better and learn faster [than if the start when they are older]. Many teachers reach into their own pockets to buy things for kids. I don’t mind doing that, but kids need classes.”
The state spends more on jails than it does on education, Taylor continued. “If some of that money were spent on education, we wouldn’t need to spend so much on jails.”
While Saugerties could add excellent programs with the additional $3.5 million it should be receiving under the 2006 agreement, “In Troy we don’t have toilet paper, we don’t have enough books and copy paper,” said Jasmine Gripper, legislative director for the Alliance for Quality Education.
People along the route have been generous in offering meals and places to stay for the marchers, Juan Collado said. Saugerties residents put up the marchers on Saturday night following a meal arranged by the Saugerties Teachers Association.