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Heat is on NY Lawmakers to Protect Schools from More Cuts

November 9, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. - The pressure is on New York state lawmakers as the special session gets underway in Albany. Gov. David Paterson is asking them to slice another $800 million or more from funding for K-12 public schools in the middle of their academic year - and teachers and parents are fighting back.

They say now is the time to tap the state's Rainy Day Fund, or for lawmakers to use this week's special session to rethink the state's spending priorities. The president of New York State United Teachers, Richard Ianuzzi, believes legislators are listening.

"There is absolutely no way that these cuts are a foregone conclusion. We are confident that reason and the future of New York state will be on the minds of our legislators - and they'll do the right thing."

Ianuzzi says that, for higher education, nearly $200 million in additional cuts would have a ripple effect that reaches far beyond the classroom.

"We're talking not only about the place where students will get the education they need to man the jobs to turn our economy around but, in many communities in New York state, the survival of the community college means the survival of the community itself."

The bulk of the proposed cuts, $686 million, are to grades K-12. Victoria Bousquet is a parent with sons in middle school and high school in New York City, which would feel more than one-third of the cuts. She says the prospect has everyone on edge - including the kids.

"I want to say that they're just short of terrified. They're already seeing changes in the schools; they're already seeing programs being cut in their schools. And they're certainly concerned about how it's going to help them accomplish the things that they need to."

Bousquet, a member of the Alliance for Quality Education, says the governor promises a smaller percentage of cuts to schools in high-need districts - but those are the districts that already rely more heavily on state money.

Paterson has said he won't agree to any more tax hikes, and insists that if the state doesn't get a handle on its debt, it won't be able to borrow any more money to keep paying for schools. Teachers and other groups believe there are other ways to find money within the state budget.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - NY