GENESEO, N.Y. - "Our children can't wait for a quality education." This message was on the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) banner that greeted those who attended the organization's event on Nov. 16.
The AQE describes themselves on their Web site as "a state-wide non-profit coalition that has become New York State's lead community-based organization in the fight for higher quality public education."
Hosted by AQE and Geneseo's Sociology Club, the event was held in Sturges Auditorium. The live entertainment for the night featured the local band Sick Gypsy, as well as the all-student Steel Drum band, composed of seven children from the Mt. Morris school district.
Hosts for the night were students Martin Bildstein and Michelle Plyem. "We're here to talk about our education system and how to improve it," said Plyem in her opening statement. Both Bildstein and Plyem suggested ways to solve inequities in the education system, which included "establishing a mentoring program in the five local school districts around Geneseo." They said that a mentoring program should include teaching high school students how to apply for college, prepare for the SATs, and make the adjustment to college.
The first guest speaker was Judith Hunter, a former history professor at Geneseo, who recently ran for New York State Assembly in the 147th District.
"This is not simply a dollar and cents matter" declared Hunter. "This is a state-wide situation."
Hunter went on to explain some of the political hurdles that can hinder equitable funding for schools. Two major topics were rising property taxes and new state mandates on special education and transportation of students to private schools.
Both situations cannot be directly controlled by citizens but "no real solution can be found unless you talk about them" said Hunter. The rising taxes often put pressure on the homeowner, since they are based upon the value of the home itself. Mandates often require much from the schools, and don't usually come with additional funding attached.
A main concern in Hunter's view was the partisanship of local politics. "State school funding has to transcend party lines and beyond the idea of 'upstate, downstate,'" she said. This touched upon the key point of the funding needs of rural districts, not just inner-city areas.
Following Hunter was professor of education Jane Fowler Morse. Morse described many court cases that have exemplified inequities in education, including the ones that have occurred both recently and in the past. She concentrated on the organization Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which is currently only dealing with urban educational funding reform.
Morse appealed for better educational opportunities for all children, urban and rural.
The Mt. Morris Steel Drum band was used as a prime example of how inventive education can be. Every seventh and eighth grader is taught how to play the steel drum, and the instrument is incorporated into almost every subject that the students learn. In explaining how diversity in learning is important, the band's conductor, Glenn McClure, said "One size fits all education just doesn't work."
For more information on the Alliance for Quality Education, readers can go to their Web site at http://www.aqeny.org. For more details about the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, visit their Web site at http://www.cfequity.org.