The recent State Supreme Court ruling that throws out the way New York State distributes funding for its schools is good news for urban districts like Buffalo. But we cannot expect that, after years of a lack of funding, a new school aid formula will overnight result in a level playing field with suburban schools. Fixing this inequity will take many years.
At the very least, our children need to have the tools to be successful in the classroom. With the new requirements mandated by the state Education Department, these tools become even more vital to learning. Unfortunately, by the time a new state aid formula is devised, many children will not meet these new requirements because of the continual lack of funding.
Some of the most basic needs for learning that many city schools and children require are taken for granted by all of us - materials for use in the classroom. From pencils to drawing paper to books, some of our schools struggle to find the money to give students all of these necessary tools.
Imagine if our nation sent its troops on missions without having the basic supplies needed for them to be successful in the field? That is exactly the battle some of our children face.
I know this from firsthand experience. Four-and-a-half years ago, I became frustrated by the lack of basic supplies available to city students and founded the Materials Reuse Project. The project's mission is to arrange for the direct donation of surplus materials from businesses for use in the classroom. The response by the business community has been overwhelming, but so is the need.
Last year, the local business community provided the city's elementary schools with 80,000 folders, 25,000 three-ring binders, 125 pallets of paper, pens, pencils, markers, paint and more. Surprisingly, most of these items were brand-new. Businesses have promotional excesses, and mergers and name changes cause a proliferation of items that are perfect for the classroom. The variety of items received is almost as remarkable as the abundance of items requested.
To assist the efforts of teachers in the classroom, we are now taking many of these materials and developing literacy kits. For instance, we are making alphabet letters from heavy paperboard and taking poster board and cutting it into word cards to reinforce spelling and word recognition. These tools might sound insignificant, but teachers will tell you that they need all the help and resources they can get to educate our children.
Despite the magnificent outpouring from the business community, the demand for everyday supplies still remains very high. Every week at our storage facility, teachers and school officials stop by to search for supplies. As inspiring as the outpouring of donations is, it is disheartening to see that the demand is not lessening.
Both the Board of Education and the city have long recognized the glaring disparities between urban and suburban school districts. They continue to fight to bring more resources to our city classrooms. Perhaps the state court ruling will once and for all fix what has been broken for so long.
I look forward to the day when the Materials Reuse Project is no longer needed. Until then, we need the business community to keep stepping up to the plate with donations. The success of our community is contingent upon the success of our children in the classroom - and that includes all of the children in the Buffalo region.
PATRICIA JENSEN is founder and executive director of the Materials Reuse Project.
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