Education A Pawn In Governor’s Budget

Legislative column from Assemblyman David McDonough (R,C,I - Merrick)

As an Assemblyman, one of my greatest pleasures is seeing the citizens of Nassau County, Long Island and all of New York actively participating in government. This past weekend was a great example of individuals and organizations rallying to affect change to the proposed budget for a very worthy cause: education.

On Saturday, I was able to speak on behalf of the Long Island minority party conferences to a crowd of over two thousand at a bipartisan rally in Farmingdale focused on saving Long Island school funding and ensuring that Long Island children get the same per pupil funding that upstate schools currently do. It was great to see unions, parent/teacher organizations, libraries and other community interest groups come together and support a common goal.

Unfortunately, the next day I read an article in the paper, which said that the New York State Lottery would no longer be offering $5,000 scholarships to high school seniors who need financial assistance. As a result, one senior from each high school in New York will be denied the opportunity to get a quality education at a college they have been accepted to but may be unable to afford.

These two events are the direct result of one thing: Governor Paterson’s budget shortchanges children throughout New York, particularly on Long Island where we have been receiving a disproportionately low amount of per pupil funding for decades. One year after the Long Island members in the Assembly, both minority and majority, fought for and won historic funding increases for Long Island schools, Governor Paterson is threatening to take away that funding in order to balance his budget.

There is no doubt, during this economic crisis where Wall Street’s collapse has drastically reduced the revenue New York will receive in the coming year, that government must reduce its spending as families have already been forced to do. Although Governor Paterson called for this after taking office, he has failed to follow his own words with actions.

For example, the New York State Lottery was told to reduce its budget by 10% in the coming year. To meet this laudable goal, the agency illogically decided to cut the $1.4 million scholarship program. They did this despite the fact that Lottery had $7.5 billion in revenues last year and spent $81.7 million on advertising during that same period. It is outrageous that the Lottery would cut a scholarship program for our children while spending fifty-eight times the scholarship amount on commercials, billboards and print advertising.

Due to pressure from legislators such as myself, citizen anger and increased media coverage, the Lottery has since backtracked on their proposal and will find new ways to lower their agency costs. I see this as a direct result of events such as the education rally I attended and increased citizen involvement in the budgetary process.

We must all be aware that although the Lottery has rescinded their proposal and the federal stimulus package may save education funding in the short term, after the two years of stimulus money has dried up we will once again be in this same position and Long Island schools will once again be at risk. I urge everyone to call the governor, write his office and e-mail him to let him know that you will not sit idly by and allow him to put our children’s future at risk and that we need our fair share!