Today is the first day of school. My kids are up, dressed, fed, and sitting at their desks.... in the basement of our house.
It's the beginning of a new school year and a whole new way of learning. I feel fortunate that my 8th and 11th graders will have at least 1-2 days of in person instruction per week. It won't be easy for anyone - parents, students or teachers - but we are in this together. We are looking at big cuts to our district in the coming months, but it's nothing compared to what our neighbors in city districts like Albany, Schenectady, Lansingburgh and Amsterdam are facing.
If you don't have school age kids, you may not have been paying attention. Let me tell you a little bit of what is going on.
Schenectady High School is closing. Albany High School is closing. Read that again. HIGH SCHOOLS ARE CLOSING THEIR DOORS BECAUSE THEY CAN'T AFFORD TO STAY OPEN. Now let that sink in. It's not an elementary school closure where kids can be redistributed among nearby elementary schools. This isn't health or COVID-19 related. This is happening because state and federal aid that these city districts rely upon is being cut to the tune of up to 29 million dollars.
We know that aid is based largely on three factors: wealth of a community, enrollment, and ability to pay. When you have less affluent communities, lots of kids, and a low ability to pay, that results in a higher need for the state and federal government to step in and help. Unfortunately, it also means when the state and federal government have to make cuts, the districts that can afford it the least, lose the most.
What does that mean? For some, it means students in grades 7-12 will be distance learning full-time. As we saw in the spring, we know that does not work. How are students in Biology class supposed to do a hands on lab if they can't touch the specimens? Do you really want a doctor operating on you, who has only studied how to do surgery online?
That's not all. Teachers are the first line of defense against abuse and neglect. They notice and report when a kid comes to school with bruises or hasn't eaten in two days. They notice when a student doesn't show up or changes friend groups, or stops caring about their appearance. There is so much more that happens within the classroom that cannot be replicated through a Chromebook webcam.
It also means that these same students, already at a disadvantage because of their life circumstances, and being set back even further compared to their peers in affluent, neighboring communities. Shenendehowa is bragging that they still have plenty in their reserve fund to continue to operate with very little impact. That's great for them. They have lots of big fancy houses that generate millions in tax revenue and fund their schools without the huge dependence on aid. Their doors are all still open, at least for a hybrid plan until the health risk has passed. Those kids are still in school, in person, doing those hands on labs and other activities that are so important to learning. Those are kids whose grades won't fall because they don't have the same access to the tools they need for success.
What is going on here? I don't want to dip into politics, but so much of it IS political. We have a Governor who would rather point fingers at the President instead of working to come up with a solution to a problem that he had a hand in creating. This is the same Governor who said that distance learning is the wave of the future. This is the same Governor who is now essentially raising his middle finger to the teachers and their unions, and by extension, any parent or student in city districts across New York State. The state provides far more funding for our local schools than the federal government does, so let's start there, Governor Cuomo.
You have failed the oldest and youngest in New York State. It may be too late for thousands of nursing home residents, but it's not too late to save our schools.