What kind of game is this? (Updated with links)

Speaker after speaker at the Rural and Small City Advocacy Day decried the idea of turning school aid into competitive grants that pit school against school in a bizarre contest. Here’s one link from Gannet Newspapers and a brief from North Country Now. Here’s another from Your News Now. Here’s a Fox News report. A winter snowstorm cut back on attendance but still more than 600 people came from 39 districts. Here’s a link to the Capital Tonight interview with two of the speakers. Here’s a link to the Broadalbin-Perth school’s website, noting why that school system sent so many of its students to Albany yesterday. Here’s Watertown Daily Times coverage.

This year’s proposed budget has set aside $250 million for experiemental competitive grants — money that Superintendents from Broadalbin-Perth, Unatego and Watervliet joined with parents and school board members and students demanding it be given to schools outright.

A large contingent from Canton gave specific examples of what changes to funding formulas wreak on schools. The schools in St. Lawrence county lost $1,927 per student in the last Gap Elimination Reduction, and this year stands to lose another $1,297. Parent Tedra Cobb said upstate, rural schools have higher poverty rates and are more dependent on this formula. Canton has already cut 20 percent of its total staff, and is next poised to cut Advanced Placement classes, all sports, and all non-mandated art, music and theater.

Closer to Albany, Watervliet is confronting a $1.4 million budget gap this year. Cutting all sports and clubs will only net $200,000 in savings. Closing kindergarten would be $434,000. Then there’s money to be saved by laying off another 20 teachers, cutting AP classes, career and technology and college prep, said Superintendent Lori Caplan, telling students to be sure and get their parents out to vote May 15.

Students talked about not being able to continue a high school running career; or the fear of losing music, which keeps one girl going to school and “which holds me..and is inspiration and peace.” Others talked about being asked in college interviews why they did not participate in more extra-curricular activities, and having to tell college admissions the high school back home hasn’t been able to offer any.

Lawmakers from both houses and both parties told students, parents, teachers and administrators the message is getting through. Republican Senator Patty Ritchie of Watertown got cheers when she said “Albany is listening.”

“We all know it’s been rigged against us for years,” said Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D-Canton).”All we want is a budget process to give upstate a fair shake.”

NYSUT’s Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta told the crowd school funding is not like an episode of “Wheel of Fortune,” and “We shouldn’t have to buy vowels!” We don’t have a Vanna White!”

But if we did, here’s what Andy said he would buy:

  • an A for Appropriations, and he noted that a pledge to appropriate $805 million for education is a promise that should be kept.
  • an E for an Equal Shot at Education, no matter whether you go to an urban, rural, suburban or city school.
  • an I is to Impress your lawmakers. Tell them how much schools and communities lose when state funds are cut.
  • an O is for Opportunity to be heard and the Opportunity for a great future for all students,
  • and U is to get the governor to Understand that “Our future is in this room…our future is in the schools.”

The day’s message was clear: rural and small city schools have lost $1.2 billion in budget cuts since 2010.

That’s Billion with a B.

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