No crayons, no peace

At my son’s elementary school, the news that Gov. Paterson — apparently determined to drive his approval ratings down into the single digits — is proposing $223 million in mid-year cuts to city schools sparked about the same reaction you’d expect from telling a laid-off auto worker how the Antarctic ice cap is melting faster than ever: I can’t think about that now, I’ve already got one crisis to worry about.

Last year’s round of cuts already cost our school its drama classes, a music teacher, and numerous aides. Library hours have evaporated. And the list of supplies that parents are asked to send in keeps getting longer — one public-school parent I know says she’s awaiting the day when kids are instructed to bring their own toilet paper.

And, frankly, our school is lucky: We have a principal adept at juggling budgets and an active Parents Association that raises a lot of supplemental funds. That’s not an option for schools in poorer neighborhoods. And as Eric Weltman of the Alliance for Quality Education says, “Our schools are already underfunded – it’s something the state’s highest courts have recognized.”

There’s some hope that the state legislature will put the kibosh on Paterson’s mid-year cuts, but given both the state and city are awash in red ink, that could end up just forestalling the inevitable. Meanwhile, the Obama stimulus package, which quietly funneled tons of education money to states — my son’s school would have lost twice as much money without it — expires after next year, leaving schools to face a potential double whammy in 2011.

Times are tough all over, sure, but as AQE and other parent groups point out, it’s not like you can ask kids to cross their legs and wait to learn until the economy recovers. Obama has recently floated the idea of a second stimulus plan, though it’d likely be called a “jobs bill” to make it more palatable to Republicans. I’ve got a better idea: Call it the Let Our Kids Paint! Act. Even Glenn Beck can’t hate that.

A shortened version of this op-ed ran in Metro New York on November 2, 2009.