Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to be a competitive man. When New York falls dead last in certain rankings, he springs to action, convenes commissions and celebrates progress.
The Tax Foundation, for example, has said that New York has the country’s worst overall business climate and state and local tax burden. When recent adjustments helped New York’s corporate tax system move up from 25th-best to fourth on the nonprofit organization’s list, Cuomo issued a gleeful statement that concludes, “When New York is economically competitive, we all win.”
It has been a month since the UCLA Civil Rights Project announced that New York’s public schools are more segregated than those in parts of the country that still polish monuments to the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. They are more segregated than schools in any other state in the country. On this subject, Cuomo has been remarkably and shamefully quiet.
Since the report was released, the governor has issued public statements about many things, including messages warning New Yorkers to avoid ticks and to shop locally for Easter presents. The web archive of Cuomo’s public statements over the last month includes no response to the UCLA study and no plan for action. Calls and emails to his press office about the matter went unanswered.
The state education commissioner, at least, made a statement about the report being troubling. “The nation, the state and our school districts all have work to do,” said John King.
But what work? The UCLA report offers a number of suggestions, noting policies in Massachusetts and Ohio that encourage school districts to reduce concentrated poverty, thereby reducing racial segregation. The report notes voluntary desegregation programs like Rochester’s Urban Suburban Program, as examples of initiatives that should be made larger and better.
It also suggests that the state increase incentives for consolidation and create meaningful school choice policies. It is ridiculous, for example, that students in Rochester’s school district are offered the “choice” of riding buses for hours to get to other failing schools full of poor students of color. It is not a child’s fault that that he is born into a poor family. More should be done to provide such kids a fairer shot.
It is worth noting that one way of breaking up concentrated poverty is to consolidate school districts, creating larger regional school districts. Cuomo should include these in his push for consolidations that help advance his goal of lower taxes.
The state Board of Regents has recommended that the state increase incentives for school districts that pursue regional schools. Such incentives will probably help. As the initial program administrator of Rochester’s Urban Suburban Program said, “the only way you’re going to get black and white together is with green.”
New York is approaching the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court case from a shameful position. There is no excuse for inaction.
“There are many dimensions that could be worked on,” Gary Orfield, one of the UCLA study’s authors, said Wednesday. “The key is to have a goal of lasting diversity and to be serious about it.”
Cuomo has taken on many tough fights since he became governor. School segregation should be among them.