UNION LEADERS SPEAK
Lessons in Inequality
Six decades after the landmark Supreme Court ruling on educational equality, Brown v. Board of Education, it is outrageous that thousands of New York City children get a graphic lesson in inequality every day when they walk through the doors of their schools.
These are students—from Harlem to Brooklyn, from the South Bronx to Manhattan’s East Village—who attend co-located schools in buildings where a district school is housed alongside a charter school. In too many cases, there are smart boards, freshly painted walls and small class sizes in the charter school while in the public school there are broken blackboards, crumbling facilities and overcrowded classrooms. Separate and unequal.
In some cases, charter students get disproportionate access to shared facilities like the cafeteria or the gym. In one case in Brooklyn, parents at PS 9 raised funds to have a library built and then watched as the Department of Education proposed co-locating a charter school in their building and giving the 160 charter students 6.75 hours in the library per week while the 550 to 610 PS 9 students were to get 4.75 hours.
It is not the charter schools that are to blame for this injustice, but the DOE. It is the DOE that comes up with co-location plans and it is the DOE that is responsible for making sure those plans are fair and in compliance with the state’s charter law, which requires an “equitable allocation” of shared facilities. It is the DOE that is fostering inequality in our school system, directly harming children’s education.
That is why the UFT, the NAACP and others sued the DOE to end the practice of co-locations that treat district school students as second-class citizens.
Our lawsuit also seeks to stop the closing of 22 schools because again, the issue at stake is equality for our city’s most vulnerable students. Fifteen of the 22 schools were on the list of closing schools last year as well, and after we sued to stop their closure in 2010, we worked with the DOE to come up with a plan to provide extra support to these struggling schools. But the DOE walked away from every promise it made to these schools and never provided any of the help it said it would. Instead, it cynically declared the schools were performing poorly and moved to close them again in 2011.
It’s another lesson in inequality. These are schools with large numbers of high-needs learners and some of the most disadvantaged students in our city. These students are as entitled to an education as any other students, yet the DOE refuses to provide the resources and support needed to teach them, and instead moves to close their schools and push them further to the margins.
Universal public education is one of the foundations of a democratic society, an idea pioneered by Americans in the last century and under attack now by “reformers” who think education should be run as a competitive marketplace rather than treated as a universal right.
That is why we, as educators, fight for educational equality — we fight for all of our students and all of the children of our city. It is why we are fighting for all children to have equal access to school facilities and why we are fighting to stop the DOE from simply abandoning struggling schools and disadvantaged students. It is why we care not just about teacher layoffs that would devastate education inside the classroom, but also about child care cuts that would push already struggling families into crisis; why we think closing libraries is bad and giving another tax break to the rich is unconscionable. It’s why 20,000 people turned out recently to protest the mayor’s budget and why we will continue to do whatever it takes to pass a city budget that’s fair to all of our students and the citizens of our city. #