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.”