An Open Letter to Governor Cuomo
Dear Governor Cuomo,
My name is Trinh Truong and I am writing to share the sad but true story about the status of my public education. I’m a senior at Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica, New York. My school is in a very urban area with a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic diversity. There are 2,800 students that attend my high school. There are over forty-two languages spoken at my school and forty-four percent of the students live at or below the poverty line. My high school is representative of the community in which I reside; there are 60,000 residents in Utica, with about 25% of them being refugees.
The poverty rate in my city is very high, so on top of having the double-edged sword of diversity we also have a weak tax base.
The population of our school district has increased by 900 students within the past decade. However, state funding has decreased, and continues to do so. We are in a unique situation—pervasive poverty, increasing enrollment, a weak tax base, and the emergence of charter schools. I cannot stress enough the importance that state aid plays in sustaining and fostering my local school district. Every student in New York State has the right to a “sound, basic education” as per the New York State constitution.
The state has an obligation—moral and constitutional—to step up and eliminate the disparities and deficits in education funding. Utica has done the best that it can to provide a world-class education to its students on dwindling resources, but will not be able to do so if these education cuts persist.
These education cuts have already cost my local school district enough, and yes—money does matter when it comes to education. There are over 34 students in a typical class in my high school. Sometimes, students have to stand because there aren’t desks for them to sit in. The same thing is occurring at the elementary level. Elementary teachers have even changed the seating every week so that each student has a chance to see the board.
The issue of class size is just going to be exacerbated by the imminent teacher cuts. Regarding supplies—my chemistry class, along with the physics and biology classes, has had to sell coupon books in order to pay for our science experiments. How is one supposed to learn chemistry without chemicals? I’m still trying to figure that one out.
In my English class, paperbacks are photocopied because we simply don’t have the money to order more. And some classes don’t even have textbooks because again, there is no money for them. This is inexcusable. But what’s truly inexcusable is that this issue of educational inequity isn’t limited to schools like Proctor or districts like Utica—it’s a crisis that many schools in New York State are facing.
Governor Cuomo swears all of this reform isn’t personal—but it is. My mother and I resettled here, in Utica, because of the opportunities that education can offer. It’s truly a socioeconomic equalizer in this country. The teachers and administrators of the Utica City School District do their best to bring everyone to their full potential, regardless of race, religion, class, and the many other categories in which the diverse students of Utica can be grouped in. And they’ve done it for me.
Sometimes people think that’s a feel-good sound byte that I include to make my district stand out, but I really mean it. In my personal experience, the value of the Utica City School District cannot be quantified. I literally came to this country with absolutely nothing, and public education has given me everything. The education I received has set me up to attend the top universities in this nation. Statistically, I wasn’t supposed to succeed. But because of a school district like Utica—I did. When the Governor is enacting policy that will directly affect my future and the futures of the 3 million students in this state, you bet it’s personal.
Governor Cuomo, I’ve been advocating for public education since my freshman year. I’m now a senior. After fighting tooth and nail for the simple idea of adequate funding for education, I’m angry. I’m angry that the Gap Elimination Adjustment and frozen foundation aid continue to deprive districts in my community of funds needed for teaching the next generation. And now I’m even angrier that you’re on a witch-hunt to fire some of the most respectable people in this country—teachers.
It’s amazing that 98.7% of teachers manage to be effective, especially when teachers like the ones in Utica are shaping students that struggle with broken families, poverty, language barriers, and special needs. I don’t think that making 50% of a teacher’s worth dependent on standardized test scores will weed out “ineffective” teachers. In reality, it will decrease interest in the field of teaching, discourage amazing educators, and perpetuate de facto segregation in public education.
I am a student who wants to succeed, learn, and be “career and college ready.” But how can I do these things when my education is shortchanged? When the people administering it are disrespected and discouraged? When my governor is forcing schools like mine into a fiscal corner so his flawed teacher evaluation system can be implemented? How can a teacher focus on fostering a love for learning when all that matters are numbers? How can any student succeed, learn, or care, when they are consigned to New York State’s underfunded education system?
Governor Cuomo, it’s time for you give credit where credit’s due. How did you get the education that you needed to become governor? From teachers. Come to my school. Come see how we’re dealing with a system that sets us up to fail. And please—respect public education. It works.
Thomas R. Proctor High School Senior
Trinh will be graduating in June 2015 and is currently awaiting to hear back from several Ivy League universities for the Fall 2015 semester. A high school senior, she has been involved with local activists and initiatives since the Occupy movement began. She currently serves as the Utica Youth Common Council President.