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Another Voice: State still owes Buffalo Public Schools $95 million

By Eve Shippens

It has been 10 years since the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision found that New York State was violating the rights of students to a sound basic education by underfunding public schools.

The Foundation Aid formula was subsequently created to bring equity and fairness to New York’s public education system. But 10 years later, schools across the state are still owed funding, including the $95 million owed to Buffalo.

So what difference could that money make? We at Citizen Action of Western New York wanted to know. So we asked. We collected over 160 cards from students, parents, teachers and community members to find out what Buffalo’s schools are missing.

The comments referenced a need for a wide range of basic necessities: smaller class sizes; up-to-date textbooks and classroom materials; technology; after-school programs; expanded arts, physical education and vocational programs; enrichment and elective classes; and better services for our English language learners.

In the words of one student, “I’m in a school that can’t have a lot of things because of money problems.”

For many students in Buffalo, the lack of school services is compounded by the impact of poverty. In the 10 years we have been waiting for this money, conditions for our children have only gotten worse.

Childhood poverty in Buffalo has increased from 37.5 percent to 54 percent. It is difficult for many parents to take an active role in their children’s education, especially those who are transient or working more than one job.

Families can’t afford to provide school supplies for their children, like notebooks, binders, pens and pencils.

Lack of household items like laundry detergent, soap or deodorant can result in a student staying home from school to avoid embarrassment.

I work in an alternative program for students who have failed numerous times before high school. Attendance is a huge factor in this, yet the district cannot afford enough attendance teachers and social workers to address the issues that keep my students from coming to school.

Foundation Aid can provide the support structures, like guidance counselors and social workers, to help students navigate these and other challenges, keep them in school and ensure all students receive the education they deserve.

We need Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the entire State Legislature to prioritize the needs of students in the coming state budget. We need the state to finally fund the $95 million owed to the students in Buffalo schools.

We cannot allow another generation of students to miss out on the educational opportunities that are their constitutional right. How long do our children have to wait?

Eve Shippens is a Buffalo parent and teacher and education chairwoman of Citizen Action of Western New York.

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