by Derek Scarlino
ALBANY – On Thursday March 19th, a delegation of litigants in the Maisto, et al. v. New York case (commonly referred to as the “Small Cities” case)for public school funding traveled to the state’s capital to address their lawsuit which will likely end up in the appeals process.
Dubbed the “Small Cities 8”, the following districts of Port Jervis, Poughkeepsie, Jamestown, Niagara Falls, Utica, Mount Vernon, Kingston and Newburgh, sent plaintiffs to Albany in an effort to urge a quick resolution to restore the funding to the aforementioned districts which claim they have lost out on since the recession. A trial court decision is expected within the next several months.
Among the plaintiffs in attendance, Trinh Truong, an activist, youth leader and senior at Utica’s Thomas R. Proctor High School, gave a speech at the event highlighting several components of the lawsuit, its value to underserved students and districts, as well as a response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s oft-repeated claims that New York’s public schools are failing.
Below is Truong’s speech, printed in full:
Last night, I was completely enamored by the wealth of diversity that exists in the halls of Thomas R. Proctor High School of the Utica City School District. Our school was hosting its annual International Night, a night devoted to showcasing and celebrating the myriad of cultures that come with having 42 languages spoken at my school. I was in an auditorium with hundreds of students dressed in their traditional attire, eating foods from their home countries, and dancing to their national anthems. To most, it was just another celebration of the beautiful differences that make Proctor a microcosm of this world. But in the educational climate that we are currently in, I couldn’t help but think about how many of these aspiring young people are full of potential that may never be tapped due to New York State’s negligence in providing them the resources for what our state’s constitution refers to as a “sound, basic education.”
The Utica City School District strives to provide students with a “world-class” education, in both senses of the word. Because Utica is a haven for refugees, students are exposed to a globalized world right in the classroom. The quality of the education is world-class as well, despite a $290 million budget shortfall due to not receiving our share of the campaign for fiscal equity funds and staff cuts. The story of the Utica City School District is one of resilience. 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. The resilient teachers of Utica are shaping students that struggle with broken families, poverty, language barriers, and special needs. And the students are resilient, too. Despite struggling with many of these externalities, they still yearn for an education that may lift them out of adversity and ever closer to the American Dream.
The success of a public school system should not have to be a story of resilience—especially when the state is constitutionally relegated to providing 55,000 students in the eight cities represented by the Small Cities case with a “sound, basic education.” Students at Proctor should not have to switch seats on a weekly basis to see the board. Students at Proctor should not have to sell coupon books to fundraise for chemicals. Students at Proctor should not have to share textbooks because there aren’t enough copies. Students at Proctor should not have to be resilient in the classroom when they are already struggling outside of it. So I am here today to ask New York State—“Are you happy with the ‘sound, basic education’ that you are consigning the students of the Utica City School District to?”
The teachers of the Utica City School District have shaped me from a young, non-English speaking refugee into a young woman headed for college. And I am not the only one. Despite the unequal and unconstitutional funding practices of New York State, my upstate school district has helped me and many others succeed. Public schools are not failing—they’re starving. And with that, public school students are not failing—they’re starving as well. It’s time to uphold the morals of these United States of America and the state of New York and to invest in public education. To invest in the future!