After New York State Governor David A. Paterson announced his decision to withhold 750 million dollars of state educational funds on Wednesday, December 9, 2009, he declared in a speech to Wall Street investors and bankers, “I will probably be sued for this, but I will not let New York State run out of money on my watch.”
Just a week later, the Governor’s prediction came true: a coalition of teachers’ unions and local school officials are preparing for a legal battle. They claim that Paterson’s actions are not only unlawful and violate New York’s constitution, but are also simply immoral.
“[This is a] reckless and total disregard of the separation of powers set forth in the constitution […] a terrible thing to have witnessed,” said Alan Lubin, vice president of the New York State United Teachers and one of Paterson’s main opponents, at a press conference on Wednesday, December 16. “The money was allocated by the state legislature for schools, for programs, for children.”
Governor Paterson cites sweeping economic troubles as a reason for withholding state funds.
“People will remember who stood in this financial period and tried to address it and who buried their head in the sand,” Paterson said at a news conference at the capitol on Wednesday, December 16, just minutes after the lawsuit had been filed. “This lawsuit does nothing to help us solve a severe cash crisis that threatens our ability to pay our obligations at the end of the month.”
Stuyvesant, as well as other large New York schools, will probably be hit the hardest.
“The withholding of the state funds will affect the New York City budget. That, in turn, will affect the education department budget, which will affect Stuyvesant. Exactly how much money will be involved for us is hard to say at this moment. I am expecting a budget cut before February first,” Principal Stanley Teitel said.
“We’re already making due with much less than we had last year,” English Assistant Principal Eric Grossman said. “The prospect of losing an even greater chunk of funding will certainly prevent the school from fulfilling its mission.”
Stuyvesant students are wary of budget cuts.
“There are so many other ways for the state to be cutting corners, but taking so much away from the future generations is not the way to get it done. It just makes an old problem worse. Good intentions, but it’s not okay to steal from the youth. I am so sure there are other places to decrease the budget,” sophomore Ashley McQuiller said.
Junior Jeffrey Bilik agrees. “Education is singularly the most important aspect of any society […] removing money from the educational system deprives the future generation of New York,” Bilik said.
Teachers’ unions worry about how such a decrease in school funding will affect state curriculum and educational standards. However, New York schools spent 15,981 dollars per pupil in 2007, more than any other state and 65 percent more than average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Paterson feels that schools will manage without the extra funding and that withholding the funds is in the best interests of the state, even if it is problematic for New York schools.
“This [lawsuit] is a desperate attempt by special interests to put their needs ahead of the people of the State of New York,” Paterson said at the capitol’s Wednesday, December 16 news conference.
The governor continues to defend his decision, blaming the need for funds on the Senate, who failed to close the state’s 3.2 billion dollar deficit this month. Paterson said that he was the “responsible parent compared to the childish Senate,” a common theme of his Wednesday, December 9 Wall Street address.
“It’s better to cut education funding than to make greater cuts to public safety and healthcare,” sophomore Jeremy Majerovitz said. “As much as we like having lots of electives and extracurriculars, it should be remembered that quality of education in general depends mostly on good teachers and a good curriculum, not tons of funding.”