The five women stood in the middle of Sen. Jeff Klein’s office at Water Place, and broke into song.
This wasn’t your average performance, however, but actually a protest from members of the Alliance for Quality Education. The tune? A freedom song from the civil rights era.
“It’s February, which is Black History Month, and (Klein) has not freed our education funds,” said Toby Marxuch-Gusciora, a retired teacher from DeWitt Clinton High School.
The coalition campaigns for fiscal equity within public schools across the state, which it believes is necessary to ensure a quality education for all students — a fight that began in 1993 when a group of parents and education advocates filed suit against the state claiming public schools were underfunded.
They won the case in 2006 and city schools were granted an additional $5.6 billion, phased into the education budget over the next four years.
But that money never made it to the school, said Maria Bautista, the alliance’s campaigns director.
Klein, as leader of the Independent Democratic Conference — a breakaway group of Democrats who actually caucus with Republicans — has empowered the very leaders that seem to block the funds, Bautista said, including $84 million dollars to schools in his own district.
That costs these schools a number of resources, especially when it comes to technology — a key component of almost any successful classroom in this day and age.
But if schools are losing out on resources, it’s not being felt at P.S. 207.
“We have technology and iPads, computers in the classroom, and smartboards,” said Lucy Cordero, a social studies teacher at the Marble Hill school.
But P.S. 207 is not exactly representative of other schools in the city, according to the alliance. Schools like Clinton, where Marxuch-Gusciora once taught.
“The computers they gave me were so outdated, and in the 45 minutes I had with my students, 35 would be used trying to get the computers to work,” she said. “It would’ve been nice to have computers that worked.”
The organization pulls school aid numbers from the state education department, and apply a formula as if it were fully funded in the four years money was supposed to be dispersed, said Marina Marcou-O’Malley, the alliance’s policy and operations director.
The Alliance then calculates what’s owed by subtracting from the current foundation aid each school district has.
“Today we’re owed $4.2 billion across the state,” Bautista said.
While that might not affect the receipt of smartboards or tablet computers, such cuts might be found at a more basic level — like when parents are forced to buy the paper and pencils the school cannot afford, or when much-needed after-school programs are slashed.
“It’s poverty,” Marxuch-Gusciora said. “The reason the graduate rate is so low (at Clinton) is because some of the children are (English as a second language) learners and need more time, and money probably would help. There wasn’t as much tutoring as there should’ve been because a lot of those kids needed one-on-one, which requires money.”
Despite filling Klein’s office with song, they were not tossed out. Marxuch-Gusciora believes what kept them inside was the fact she was Klein’s constituent.
“Sen. Klein has consistently delivered for all students in his district by ensuring that record-breaking increases in public school funding is included each year in the final budget that’s agreed to by both houses of the state legislature and the executive,” a, Klein spokesman said in a statement.
“Sen. Klein alone, since 2012, has delivered over $7 million in direct funding for programming and capital improvements to schools in Riverdale and the rest of his district.”
Bautista however remains unconvinced. Based on the alliance’s education aid formula and the underserved schools she has come across, she is confident the money Klein has earmarked are “crumbs” compared to what Bautista says he owes.