Competitive Grants Will Make Our Students Winners & Losers
by Zakiyah Ansari
I understand the importance of successful performance for holding the bar high. My eldest daughter Anisah graduated high school with an Advanced Regents diploma, graduated from Baruch College Cum Laude, B.A. Sociology, and last year graduated from Hunter Graduate School of Social Work with her Master’s Degree. She will begin her PhD in Criminal Justice in March 2012. My daughter Aliyah graduated valedictorian from her high school also with an Advanced Regents diploma and last year graduated from NYU with a B.A. in Africana Studies.
My four eldest daughters’ educational foundation began with a great Pre-K program and an elementary and middle school experience where there was no teaching to the test. It included the arts, great after school programs, poetry, hands-on curriculum and so many other great things.
As we all talk about having our kids college ready, the $2.7 billion in cuts with which our schools have been hit over the last two years, is definitely not going to get them there. I have two daughters that attend a really great high school in Brooklyn. When my first daughter started attending there 4 years ago there was a 6 week summer bridge program that she had to attend. The school understood that if our children were going to be ready for college in four years, they would need to have to pass Calculus as well as have access to a well-rounded curriculum. The bridge program was for all incoming 9th graders. If they hadn’t taken and passed the Math and Science Regents in 8th grade this was an opportunity for them to study and take the test in August and hit the ground running and be on track for college. The bridge program created an opportunity for the students to know and get excited about their new high school, meet classmates, staff and teachers. It worked. My daughter finished taking all of her Regents in 11th grade and will graduate this year. Unfortunately, because of the cuts my youngest daughter who began at Banneker last year was only able to experience a 3 week bridge program and it could only serve 150 incoming 9th graders. It was like a race to ensure that she received one of those slots because I understood how important it was for her to attend. I sent a letter and called the parent coordinator and emailed the principal making sure I got her name in their quickly. My daughter got in. She was fortunate. But what about the students who didn’t get in? It wasn’t that the school didn’t want to offer the program for 6 weeks or to all kids but they couldn’t afford to. There is something horribly wrong with that.
The Executive budget falls short of the proposal the Board of Regents put forth to prioritize 73% of the school aid restorations to high and average need districts. Last year’s state budget promised an $805 million in school aid restorations for this upcoming year, but if $250 million is diverted into competitive grants this will leave only $555 million in allocated school aid. The $555 million proposed is only 2.86% restoration, not the 4.1% committed. This amount will not even keep up with inflation, so classrooms will see cuts once again.
A rural district such as Jordan-Elbridge in Onondaga County that lost $2052 per pupil over the past two years, would only get a $239 per pupil restoration. If the legislature does not fix this problem, once again the promise to our kids will be broken.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the $200 million added to the competitive grant program will mean that some of our children will be winners and some will be losers. Competition might be healthy if you’re training for a race or on a team but it’s not healthy or okay when you have rural parts of the state like Jordan-Elbridge competing with Scarsdale, or New York City competing with Syosset, or needy districts like Binghamton and Buffalo competing with each other for money desperately needed to ensure that all our children have an opportunity to learn. Test scores should not be used to determine whether or not students will receive the classroom resources they need to succeed.
I can’t imagine having my kids compete for dinner knowing that they are all hungry. It’s the same image; our children in these districts are in need of nourishment in the form of art, music, AP courses, after school programs, technology, etc. Who is going to choose which of them gets fed? Everywhere you turn people are talking about college readiness; these competitive grants will only ensure that SOME have the chance to be college ready. Healthy competition is when my youngest daughter who is in 9th grade asked my oldest daughter what her average was when she graduated from high school, and she said “I’m going to do better than that”. It is unhealthy when one or the other may be denied access to a guidance counselor because their school lost resources as a result of a competition.
As parents we have high expectations and dreams for our children — no matter if you are rich, poor, or an immigrant, we want better for our children than what we had. We want them to be successful, productive citizens and ultimately leave our homes and only come back to visit. Fact is, if they don’t get a good education, they won’t get a good job and if they don’t get a job, they are more likely to wind up in jail which the State always finds the money for.
We began last week by honoring the memory of Dr. King. I wonder what he would say if he knew we were considering making our children compete to get to the mountain top.
Zakiyah Ansari is the Advocacy Director of the Alliance for Quality Education