Activists flock to Flanagan for education funding

Activists flock to Flanagan for education funding

From left, Olivia Santoro, Daphne Marsh, Victoria Daza, Aaron Watkins-Lopez and Blanca Villanueva, representing advocacy groups for education funding delivered a petition to Sen. John Flanagan’s Smithtown office Wednesday. Photo by Alex Petroski

A small group of people carried the voices of thousands of New Yorkers standing up for the students across the state.

Activists representing four New York State and Long Island groups in support of education funding — especially for low income districts — dropped off a petition with more than 9,000 signatures from across New York to state Sen. John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) office in Smithtown Wednesday. Those in support of the petition pledged their support for state Assemblymen Carl Heastie’s (D-Bronx) “millionaire tax bill,” which was introduced in February and proposed an increase in taxes to those who earn upwards of $1 million annually.

The petition was also in support of a full phase-in of the money still owed to pay off the Campaign for Fiscal Equity resolution, which ensured that $5.5 billion would be committed to mostly high-need districts in 2007, and was supposed to take effect over the course of four years. This was a result of a lawsuit started in 1993, which eventually reached the New York State Court of Appeals, which ruled that high-need districts were being neglected. About $781-million of that money is still owed to Long Island schools, according to advocates of the resolution.

The groups represented at Flanagan’s office included New York Communities For Change, Jobs With Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition and Alliance for Quality Education as well as community members from across Long Island. Flanagan was not in his office, and a legal aide who took the petition declined to comment.

“We need to address the emotional, physical, social, needs of the child and the Senate has shown that they are not caring right now with the budget they have proposed,” said Blanca Villanueva, an organizer from Alliance for Quality Education. “We need them to represent us because they represent all of Long Island and all of New York State.”

The petition was also delivered to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office, Villanueva said.

Flanagan has said in the past that he is against the millionaire tax bill. He did not respond to a request for comment regarding the petition.

“As a constituent of Sen. Flanagan’s, I am calling on him to support the millionaire’s tax,” said Olivia Santoro, a member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “I valued my public school education and I want the same opportunity for students growing up in his district and across Long Island. That means that we need to fully fund our schools.”

On March 21, a group of about 40 wealthy New Yorkers in conjunction with the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Responsible Wealth Project sent an open letter to Cuomo in support of Heastie’s millionaire tax bill. Those in support included Steven C. Rockefeller and Abigail Disney, among others.

Flanagan’s proposed 2016-17 budget would eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has cost districts across the state millions of dollars over the past several years in an effort to close a deficit. It also included almost $600 million for education, though Villanueva said at Flanagan’s office that it was not enough.

“We’ve got this Campaign for Fiscal Equity that we’ve been working very hard to support and we hope that [Sen. Flanagan] can stand with the students in making sure that they receive a quality education and the funding that’s necessary in order to deliver that,” Melissa Figueroa of New York Communities For Change said Wednesday. “We need this support, and I hope that he gets down with us.”

Figueroa is also running for a school board seat in Hempstead School District.

Signs held by those in support of the petition read, “Stand up 4 kids, NOT billionaires,” “Sen. Flanagan, who do you represent?” and “Millionaires Tax: Raise taxes on the 1% by 1% to raise billions for public school education.” The petition was launched on ColorOfChange.org, an organization dedicated to fighting institutional racism.

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