Game on

Nixon accuses Cuomo of underfunding schools, calling his rationale ‘just one big excuse’

PHOTO: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

For her first Albany appearance as a gubernatorial candidate, Cynthia Nixon chose to attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo on school funding answering any questions about how deeply her education advocacy experience is shaping her campaign.

The “Sex and the City” actress held a press conference on Monday with the Alliance for Quality Education, an education advocacy group that has counted Nixon as a spokesperson for 16 years. The union-backed group pushes for more school funding in Albany.

During Monday’s appearance, Nixon accused the governor of underfunding poor schools, dismissed his latest proposal to make the system more fair as a “stall tactic” and compared him to President Donald Trump.

“Governor Cuomo’s entire argument on school funding is just one big excuse to ignore the lives of students who are black or brown or working-class,” Nixon said. “The Cuomo budget does not value the lives of the majority of New York’s children.”

While Nixon dismissed Cuomo’s education spending proposal, which would increase school aid by $769 million, she embraced the proposal put forward by the Democratic-led Assembly. The Assembly’s budget calls for a $1.5 billion boost to education spending.

Nixon’s comments are part of a larger battle over school funding that has been brewing in New York State for years. Advocates from groups such as Alliance for Quality Education, including Nixon, have argued that New York schools are owed billions of dollars under a school funding lawsuit settled in 2006.

The governor’s office has shot back, saying that the level of funding was meant to be a goal instead of a legally binding amount. Officials from the governor’s office also noted that Cuomo has overseen a 35 percent hike in education spending since 2012.

In addition to talking about the overall level of education spending, Nixon spotlighted spending inequality at Monday’s press conference, arguing that the state’s richer, whiter, districts pull up the state’s average spending on schools, while the state’s poorest schools are still suffering from underfunding.

This year, the governor’s budget includes a provision that would allow state officials to review and approve school budgets from certain school districts to ensure that enough money is flowing to the poorest schools. (Officials from the governor’s office also noted that the state’s funding formula provides more money to the poorest schools.)

When asked about the governor’s desire to account for where every education dollar goes, Nixon called it a “classic stall tactic” that the governor is using because he “doesn’t want to fund anything.”

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires a school-by-school breakdown of education spending, but Cuomo’s budget would take the requirement a step further and allow state officials to approve budgets.

Nixon’s appearance on Monday is in line with years of her activism on public school funding and her history with the Alliance for Quality Education. Nixon, who talked about being a proud public school student and parent in her campaign video, has said that Cuomo’s comments on school funding were the final straw that thrust her into the gubernatorial race, according to a Nixon advisor quoted in the New York Times.

She began traveling to Albany to fight for school funding long before her gubernatorial bid, noted an AQE member at Monday’s press conference. And in January, she sent a joint statement with the Alliance for Quality Education bashing the amount of education spending in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget.

On Monday, Nixon also dipped her toe into a burgeoning national school safety conversation, which has come to the fore after the tragic shooting of 17 students in Florida. Senate Republicans proposed a series of school safety reforms, including providing funds to allow schools to purchase armed guards.

Nixon seemed to reject putting resources into security measures, instead of prioritizing educational resources such as counselors, books, and other technology.

“Why should we accept more police in our schools, making students feel like criminals, instead of guidance counselors that can help them work out problems?” Nixon said. “We need more smart boards, not more metal detectors.”

And in a sign that Nixon won’t shy away from heated rhetoric, she even tied the governor’s actions on school spending to the tactics employed by the U.S. president.

“His budgets bully our children and our families by shortchanging them, by boxing them in, by denying them the opportunities they are owed,” she said. “It reminds me of the behavior we see from Donald Trump every day.”

LIVE

Thousands of Colorado teachers are rallying at the Capitol for more funding and higher pay. Follow the protest here.

Jefferson County educators Joel Zigman and Elizabeth Hall march during a teachers rally for more educational funding at the Colorado State Capitol on Thursday, April 26. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Droves of Colorado teachers are expected to protest at the state Capitol on Thursday and Friday, joining a national moment of educator activism.

Their asks: more money for schools, higher pay, protection for retirement benefits.

Teachers from two of the state’s largest school districts — Jeffco Public Schools and the Douglas County School District — are expected to begin gathering at the Capitol at 9 a.m., Thursday. They’ll be joined by teachers from two rural school districts: Lake County and Clear Creek. A rally is scheduled at 1:30 p.m.

On Friday, teachers from more than two dozen school districts — including Denver Public Schools — are expected to converge on Capitol Hill. In light of the number of teachers rallying at the Capitol, school has been canceled for more than 600,000 Colorado students.

Chalkbeat reporters are filing live updates from the Capitol below. You can also follow along on Facebook and Twitter.

Nevermind

Sponsor pulls bill that would change how Colorado distributes money to schools

A student takes part in an after-school program at Ashley Elementary School in Denver last spring. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post).

There won’t be a change to Colorado’s school funding formula this year, at least not at the Capitol.

State Rep. Dave Young, a Greeley Democrat, killed his own bill Wednesday by asking that it be postponed indefinitely. The House Education Committee complied, though some Democrats were reluctant.

Young said he didn’t think the bill, which had already been postponed twice, could garner bipartisan support in a form that the superintendents who conceived of the proposal could accept, but he said lawmakers need to come back to the issue.

“There is a sense of urgency that is greater right now and will continue to escalate if we don’t show that we are doing something,” he said of the eve of massive teacher rallies calling for more school funding.

The proposal called for a “student-centered” distribution model to replace the state’s school finance formula created in 1994. At its most basic, this approach gives districts and schools more money for students who have more needs, whether that’s learning English or being gifted and talented or having a disability. A working group of Colorado superintendents came up with the new formula, and eventually 171 of the state’s 178 district leaders signed onto it.

The new formula would have gone into effect only if voters passed a $1.6 billion tax increase. Without the additional money, the change would have cost some districts millions.

Superintendents felt so strongly about this formula that they held a rally to unveil it.

After the committee vote, Cheyenne Mountain Superintendent Walt Cooper, who led the effort to change the formula, said his group would keep working on the idea until they could find bipartisan support.

I think I speak for all of my colleagues that we understood the political realities going in,” Cooper said, describing himself as “disappointed but not discouraged.”

“It’s very seldom is a bill’s first attempt its last attempt.”

However, an interim school finance committee that expects to propose legislation for the 2019 session will not be taking up the superintendents’ proposal.

Republicans and Democrats both raised concerns about the bill. While proponents of the formula change argued it’s much more equitable, Republicans said it seemed to them that the tax increase was the real change, with its potential for a big cash infusion to schools. Democrats wondered about the wisdom of tackling the distribution formula in isolation from other problems related to how Colorado funds its schools.

The effort to put that tax increase on the ballot continues, and the initiative itself would compel changes to the funding formula if it passes.

“Great Schools, Thriving Communities is moving forward full speed ahead,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, an advocacy group. “Our ballot measure has a more equitable distribution embedded in it, and it also shows the voter intent that our school finance system be very equitable and student-focused. The legislature will have another chance to pick up this issue.”

Colorado voters have twice before rejected tax increases for education, but Weil said she believes this time will be different.

“There has been cut after cut, year after year, a few more kids in each classroom, pay freezes, shave away some extracurricular activities, or more fees appear,” she said. “People are getting it. Our current school funding levels are not the path forward we want for Colorado.”