Andrew Cuomo (51864)
Credit: Pat Arnow

Education activists and civil rights organizations want Gov. Andrew Cuomo to devote just as much aid to public schools as he devotes to charter schools.

The state Senate majority is currently considering a budget proposal that would invest state funds in capital construction for privately run charter schools. Many activists think this policy would undermine the power of New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio to make its own determination on charter school colocations and rent.

“Gov. Cuomo is the master puppeteer of this ‘pay-to-play’ fiasco, pulling strings in the Senate to get gubernatorial control over New York City school issues,” said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change, in a statement. “It’s a power play to satisfy the big money political donors that want corporate charter school chains to thrive at the expense of public school students. The governor is the biggest beneficiary in Albany of shady ‘pay-to-play’ interests who want to privatize education, and he is taking it out on the 97 percent of parents, students and teachers that want him to stop his assault on public schools.”

With financiers and backers of privately run charter schools contributing significantly to Cuomo’s campaign, many are afraid for the future of public school in the five boroughs.

“The ‘pay-to-play’ school politics we are witnessing today between the governor and Senate majority is an outrage,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, in a statement. “The real civil rights issue of our time is that Gov. Cuomo has completely abandoned his constitutional responsibility to provide adequate funding for the 97 percent of students in public schools across the state. Unfortunately, the majority of public school students do not have rich Wall Street honchos to make the governor pay attention to them.”

So activists have made the governor pay attention to them. Last week, hundreds of students, parents and community members from across the state showed up in Albany to call for the “resurrection” of their schools’ programs, classes and resources that have been cut over the past five years. Cuomo received a petition signed by 14,000 New Yorkers demanding that he support all students and not just the 3 percent who attend charter schools.

Led by Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education, the rally began with a parade down the concourse of Empire State Plaza and marchers carrying signs in the shape of tombstones that read, “R.I.P Music classes,” “R.I.P. After-school programs” in reference to recent cuts.

“I’m angry!” said Ansari in a statement. “Gov. Cuomo claims to be the students’ lobbyist, but his actions show that really he is only lobbying for the 3 percent of students who attend privately run charter schools. It seems that Gov. Cuomo is more concerned about appeasing his re-election campaign donors, like the privately run charter school backers, than fulfilling his constitutional obligation to all the students of New York.”

Daniel Adamek, president of the Student Council at Herkimer High School, said that where he lives shouldn’t determine the type of education he receives.

“I am sick of being marginalized by our state government just because of where I live,” said  Adamek in a statement. “My socioeconomic status and ZIP code should not affect the quality of education that I receive. Therefore, it is time for youth to take action and fight for their right to equitable school funding.”