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Boisterous student crowd brings school funding petitions to Cuomo’s doorstep

Cuomo aide Garreth Rhodes takes signed petitions outside the governor's office.
Cuomo aide Garreth Rhodes takes signed petitions outside the governor's office.

ALBANY — Hundreds of students and advocates seeking more school funding in the state budget rallied outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, then demanded that he show his face to take their signed petitions.

“Can he come out?” Alliance for Quality Education advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari asked a security guard stationed on the second floor of the Capitol building.

Apparently, Cuomo couldn’t. Instead, that duty fell to a spokesman, Gareth Rhodes, who collected what Ansari said were petitions with over 14,000 signatures from students. AQE and more than 80 lawmakers are seeking $1.9 billion in increased aid for schools who are in danger of cutting programs.

One of the signatories, Deshawn Kunata, a student at Schenectady High School, said he’s earned more than 30 college credits for free through an accelerated program that might have to shut down next year if his district can’t plug a growing budget gap.

Ansari and the students chanted “Shame!” when Cuomo didn’t emerge from his second-floor office. She criticized him for giving too much attention to the state’s charter school sector by lobbying for funding support for them.

“The governor can stand outside in the freezing cold for the 3 percent of privately-run charter schools,” she said. “For the 97 percent of children represented hear today, he won’t even come out of his office to accept petitions.”

The protest came just hours after the Assembly’s education budget bill proposed an extra $1 billion for school funding, a sum that AQE Executive Director Billy Easton said was inadequate.

“It will slow the bleeding in our public schools but not stop it, much less restore programs that have been cut,” he said.

Budget negotiations between Cuomo and the legislative houses must conclude by the end of the month. Typically, the Democratic Assembly’s first-draft of a school funding bill ends up being higher than what ultimately is signed into law.

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