Last week, a group of clergy endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education agenda, which includes use of more high-stakes standardized tests for students to evaluate teachers, a state takeover of struggling public schools and the pulling back of funds from public schools to open more privately run charter schools.

We disagree with those who believe the proposed education agenda of the governor has anything to do with a moral framework with the intent to “favor the poor and disenfranchised.” To be sure, education is a moral issue, and those with a vision for education ought to be thinking of creative ways that benefit the poor and disenfranchised. However, the governor’s policies appear to benefit only those seeking to privatize public education.

Cuomo’s education agenda is morally bankrupt. It doesn’t provide an equitable distribution of education tools for millions of children in some of our neediest public schools—schools that Cuomo has kept on a starvation diet for years and now blames for failing our children. We contend that Cuomo is the one who is failing our children. He has done so throughout the past four years. Now this year, if his agenda is approved, he will further rob resources from our children, their education and their futures.

The main problem with Cuomo’s education agenda is that in light of the Brown v. Board of Education decision 61 years ago, it seems to perpetuate the problem of inequality in our public schools system. It also favors the wealthy, the billionaire donors who helped to finance Cuomo’s campaign. The reality is that Cuomo’s education agenda is a thinly disguised ploy to payback his billionaire friends, who will profit from the opening of more privately run charter schools. The governor labels certain schools as “failing” schools, but the governor is not forthright about how his cuts gutted programs that were put in place to help disadvantaged students.

While we do not want to disparage the good work that can happen in an alternative school setting such as a charter or parochial school, these schools do not have to comply with any fiscal regulations such as those applied at public schools. However, they are receiving public dollars, which can be subjected to fraud, waste and abuse. Unfortunately, fiscal mismanagement is not uncommon in privately run schools.

Furthermore, and most distressing, is the fact that Cuomo wants to provide donors giving $1 million or more with a generous tax credit if they contribute to these schools. Hedge fund managers have been lobbying the governor for this new tax credit, which will essentially only benefit them. Meanwhile, more public funds are being diverted from our New York City schools.

This policy not only is a moral failure, but also is in violation of the state constitution, which requires the state to provide a quality education to all students.

In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals settled the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, a lawsuit brought by parents against the state of New York. The judges agreed that New York City schools were underfunded and ordered the state to pay what is due to schools and uphold the state’s constitutional obligation to provide “a sound, basic education” for all students. For two years, the state complied with the ruling. But since 2009, the state has cut and cut and cut, and sent what money it had to private charters. Without the funds, schools have resorted to cutting everything that is not mandated by the state—art, music, libraries, sports and after-school programs, as well as necessary staff such as psychologists, social workers and teachers. Schools have also increased class sizes.

The governor then irresponsibly points to those same schools and calls them failing. Moreover, he passes the blame to our beleaguered, under-resourced teachers. This tactic feeds into his other agenda item—more high-stakes testing to evaluate teachers, which leads to more teaching to the test, not teaching and learning.

In truth, Cuomo shoulders much of the blame as to why we have underperforming schools. Therefore, as religious leaders in the great city of New York, we must respectfully disagree with those who support Cuomo’s policies and strongly urge our lawmakers to reject the education agenda that will further undermine our sacred duty to educate all of our children.

In short, Cuomo’s agenda is immoral.

The Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr., First Corinthian Baptist Church 

Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, president, the Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, executive director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition