“We’re doing fundraisers to keep arts,” said Rachel Busher, one of many teachers hoisting signs outside the Capitol on Tuesday. She came to tell lawmakers how number crunching in Albany is stealing opportunities from students in New Paltz.
Drama club, art club, chorus and band are “all clubs that were cut since the 2 percent tax cap,” said Busher, a member of New Paltz United Teachers. “We’ve cut pre-K and after-school.” Special education services have also been cut.
Teachers and parents are hosting fundraisers to keep arts programs in their schools. Students, Busher said, “are right behind us getting the fundraising done.”
Recently, they hosted a musical evening at SUNY New Paltz, with performances donated by local musicians and singers.
Adding to the frustration is that, in the last school budget vote, “we lost the 60 percent majority by 18 votes,” she said. With the tax cap, one person does not equal one vote — naysayers carry more weight. The votes of those in favor of surpassing the tax cap only count for two-thirds. That’s one of the primary reasons that NYSUT is suing over the tax cap.
Increased class sizes are another result of state budget cuts and tax cap, she said. “As a remedial teacher, I have six kids for 20 minutes at a time; it should be four kids for 30 minutes,” Busher said.
From the podium, frustrated students and teachers, one after the other, called out to the crowd to tell them what programs have disappeared in their schools in the past few years: golf, volleyball, soccer, modified sports, ceramics, drawing, football … Music teachers and librarians have been let go.
Students shared how these programs were often just the pull they needed to keep them motivated to stay in school.
“I remember being excited going to school for ‘art attack,'” a student from Buffalo said.
Right about now, that’s likely what Sandro Boticelli, Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper or Georgia O’Keefe would be having if they could see all these students being turned away from learning about drawing, painting and creative self-expression — art attacks.