Before Back-to-School, Some Back-Talk to School Reformers

Mark Scheerer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – As it continues a series of regional meetings, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission pulls into Syracuse today. The body, put together to study how to improve New York’s public schools in difficult economic times, will gather input from parents, teachers and other interested parties.

Talina Jones of Syracuse is going to tell the Commission that her son, Kareim, diagnosed with Down syndrome, wouldn’t have made the progress he’s made if not for programs that are under the ax.

“He’s going to third grade next year. I know that budget cuts have really dwindled down the amount of teachers and support staff who are currently in school.”

The motto of the Commission is “Putting Students First.” Jones says what comes first for students – the foundation provided before kindergarten begins – should be a priority for a Commission that’s serious about positive change in New York’s public school systems.
Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education says he hopes for more than just lip service to pre-K programs.

“There’s talk about it, but we need action. We need the Commission to come forward with a strong recommendation that Albany provide the leadership and funding to make sure that we expand access to effective pre-kindergarten programs.”

Talina Jones says she’s heard some people suggest that special-needs children such as her son are costing the state too much money and should be taken out and put in separate facilities, an idea that, to her, evokes the days before the civil rights movement.

“To talk to a parent who has a son who is both African-American as well as a student with a disability – that notion of ‘separate but equal’ gets underneath my skin in a way that is . . . That I can’t really explain, right?”

Easton says he hopes the commission will tell Governor Cuomo the unvarnished truth.

“His policies have led to greater inequity of opportunity between wealthy districts and poor and middle-class districts. That’s the facts. So now, the governor has the Commission. We’re looking to the governor to turn the ship and get it right.”

After Syracuse, the Commission has five more regional hearings and has a goal of delivering a preliminary report to the governor by the end of December.

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