Hudson Valley Defends the Institute of Public Education

New York State owes New Paltz school districts $2 million, according to lead organizer at Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley Callie Jayne. Photo by Briana Bonfiglio.

Parents, students, educators and activists alike marched in support of public education this past weekend in Kingston.

The protest was just one of several statewide “People’s March for Education Justice” events hosted by Citizen Action of New York on Saturday, March 4. Marchers joined together against both state and federal-level threats to the public education system. 

“As we continue to defend the institution of public education from federal attacks by President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, we march to defend that same institution here in New York from Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” the event page stated. 

Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley Lead organizer Callie Jayne said that the primary reason for marching was to demand proper state funding for public schools. In Cuomo’s proposed budget, he offered $1 billion to public schools statewide. However, activists are demanding the state pay the full $4.3 billion it owes to its schools. 

Jayne noted that the school districts with high populations of minority students are most impacted by low funding and that “educational justice is racial justice.”

“We’re not giving an equal start to our students when they can’t even get the funding that is needed,” she said. 

Marchers also stood for issues facing the public school system such as school lunch policy, Common Core testing, youth criminalization, privatization at the federal level and rights for LGBTQIA+, immigrant and disabled students.

“Everything is at risk right now,” Jayne said. “With everything that’s happening at the federal level, [Cuomo] needs to do better and he’s not.”

Gathering on the lawn of Academy Greene in Kingston, enthusiastic protesters waved homemade signs reading “#PublicSchoolProud,” “End Racism in School Funding,” “Education is Key. Keep it Free,” among many more. Some even held signs with photos of celebrities and public figures labeled “Public School Kid.” Others wore stickers that said “Educational justice is racial justice.”

Before marching to Kingston High School, speakers took the mic to both inform and inspire marchers, including a local parent and a Kingston High School student. Steve Spicer, an educator in Hudson, led chants of “Power to the resistance movement” and “Cash that check,” calling on Cuomo to pay up when the state budget is finalized on April 1. 

SUNY New Paltz sociology professor and village board candidate KT Tobin also addressed the crowd. As a former New Paltz school board member, she spoke about the importance of opting out of standardized testing, before discussing funding for public schools, including college.

“I paid my own way to get a bachelor’s degree from SUNY New Paltz by working part-time jobs,” she said. “That is no longer mathematically possible for my students, as tuition is much higher now.”

She added, “SUNY has been under this system of disinvestment and we need to forge more alliances between higher ed and K-12,” and urged the crowd to speak up and get involved.

Jayne has also been encouraging others to let their voices be heard by writing to the governor and to state senators who will vote on the budget.

“I’m hoping to see that people become aware, involved and understand what’s happening and what we can do at the state level,” she said.