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Students from Canton's AP Government class after an assembly to explain state aid cuts to other students.
Students from Canton's AP Government class after an assembly to explain state aid cuts to other students.

Canton students led the way to Albany advocacy trip

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What started as a field trip for a Canton Central School Government class has become a live-issue that has busloads of students, parents, and school officials headed to Albany Wednesday.

They're worried that Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal for school aid this year will mean huge cutbacks to their programs.

Cuomo has called himself the lobbyist for students. These were his comments during his budget proposal speech last month, talking about refocusing education on student needs, "This was not supposed to be about the adults, it was supposed to be about the children. It was supposed to be the best way to educate children, and respecting the tax dollar to do it."

Cuomo has proposed a 4.1% hike in education funding. But that still leaves Canton Central with a $2.5 million shortfall.

The students want the Governor to see how his budget is affecting kids in poor, rural districts. Julie Grant reports.

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Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

When Canton senior Susannah Sudborough heard in her AP Government class that the district might cut 44 jobs, as well as some theatre, sports, and other programs, she was upset. 

“It really makes me sad and frustrated and angry that some kids are offered better opportunities in education then people up here. And I think it’s really unfair that kids up here should have a harder time competing with other kids for college because of where we are, because we’re not getting enough funding.”

So she did what any concerned young person would do in 2012, she started a Facebook page about it.  Within a week, she had 700 members. It’s now up to 900. 

And instead of 25 students from the AP Government class and the model United Nations program taking a field trip to Albany, around 250 people from St. Lawrence County are heading downstate for a full scale advocacy effort.

Jay Foster Grover is a senior.  He led an assembly at lunchtime last week, encouraging more students to join them. 

“We are going down to Albany to speak with the legislators, to try to make them aware that we actually live up here, and that we care, and that they’re hurting us.”

Foster Grover explained to about 150 students that they would keep core classes, such as English, social studies, and math.

“You wouldn’t be able to take studio art if you’re an artist, you wouldn’t be able to take music classes if you like to sing, you wouldn’t be able to take tech classes with Mr. Lambert,  if that’s what you’re interested in.  You wouldn’t be able to take sports after school, sports are right there getting cut.”

A statewide education advocacy group has been working to help organize Canton, and other rural districts around the state. Chad Roddick is campaign director for The Alliance for Quality Education in New York. He says 800 parents, teachers, and students from rural districts are expected in Albany Wednesday. 

“Largely we’re going there as a group to ask for 2 things.”

Roddick says Governor Cuomo’s budget calls for districts to compete for $250 million in education funding. 

“Most of us agree that the competitive grants make a system of winners and losers and is not equitable distribution of the money. So we’re asking that that money be rolled into school aid formula. And will bring in approximately $72 million in to rural and small city districts.”

Even with that change, Roddick says many rural districts will still be in financial straits. So, they second thing they’re asking for, is well, MORE money. Roddick says the current budget just isn’t enough for rural districts that have little in the way of a local tax base.

Roddick says the most effective way to explain this to lawmakers is through students own stories. He wants them to tell legislators to tell about what they’ve already lost in north country districts: a librarian, a math teacher, Latin and Spanish classes.

Canton Senior Pat McGaw is worried his younger brother won’t be able to get the tech class he plans to take next year. McGaw says his friends in wealthier districts talk about having seven different language classes to choose from while Canton is just trying to hang on to both French and Spanish.

And he’s worried about the very AP Government class that got this whole effort started.

“This class, I guarantee it’s not going to be offered next year, because we don’t have the money to pay Mrs. Schmid-Doyle to teach the class. And for people to not have that…And this is this first year we’ve offered it in three years.”

McGaw and the other AP Government students at Canton are among the top in the their class and they worry that if they don’t have Advanced classes, theatre, or even languages, they won’t have the competitive edge they need when applying to colleges.

The buses are scheduled to arrive at Albany at 10:30 a.m.

 

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