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Small-town & Rural NY Ask: “Where's Our School Money?”

February 29, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. - They're from upstate, and they're upset.

State legislators will get visits today from teachers, parents and students demanding fairness in funding for public schools. They're coming from Hoosick Falls, Schoharie, Potsdam, Canton and Carthage - and they want funding restored for teachers, staffers and programs given the ax in rounds of cutbacks during the past few years.

Assemblywoman Addie Russell, D-Theresa, whose district runs along the St. Lawrence River in the North Country, knows that the college hopes of her constituents are threatened.

"I've had one student say to me that she was in a college interview recently and was asked why she wasn't in more activities. And she had to tell them a significant amount of their after-school activities had been cut."

The Executive Budget restores $160 million to rural and small-city schools, but much of it is in the form of grants for which school districts have to compete. The demonstrators say that puts upstate schools at a disadvantage, and want the money used instead to restore teachers and programs to help students prepare for college and careers.

Small school districts such as the ones in the farmland along the St. Lawrence won't be able to go after the competitive grants which comprise a third of the restored funds in the Executive Budget, Russell says.

"I don't even have one single school district that is even eligible to apply for any of that money, so essentially a third of the increase really doesn't exist in a meaningful way for most school districts in this state. "

Martin Messner, a physical-education teacher, is heading for Albany to plead the case for his high school in Schoharie, which has the added burden of having been ravaged by Hurricane Irene last year.

"Our Main Street was under 48 feet of water. Our tax base has been wiped out. So, we have a lot of terrified students, a lot of nervous teachers. Everybody wants to provide the best possible education for our kids and, under the current funding scenario, that's not going to happen."

Messner says he never thought attending rallies in Albany and lobbying legislators would be part of his teaching career.

"I never would have thought I'd have to be this active in order to fight for just some basic things that I had when I was growing up. This is the American dream, this is what America is all about: everyone gets a decent education. "

Organizers say they expect 700 or more activists to rally in what they say is a first-of-its-kind effort involving folks from rural and small-town New York. The rally is to begin at 11:30 a.m. at Hart Theatre at the Egg, in Albany's Empire State Plaza.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY