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NYSNYS NEWS: Invoking Jesus Christ and Mario Cuomo, advocates call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide more money to poor schools. Event was second 'Moral Monday' of the 2015 session.
NYSNYS NEWS: Invoking Jesus Christ and Mario Cuomo, advocates call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide more money to poor schools. Event was second 'Moral Monday' of the 2015 session.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (January 12) – Invoking both Jesus Christ and Mario Cuomo, advocates for more school spending and desegregating New York's schools held a "Moral Monday" rally aimed Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

"I say with all deepest respect and humility, I remember the late Gov. Mario Cuomo," said Rev. Dr. William Barber, the head of the North Carolina NAACP. "He talked about the other side of the city – he said one side is a shining city but there's another side where … students can't afford an education and where their dreams evaporate."

"Anything less than trying to close the gap in the other America and the other city is just wrong," Barber said, dressed in his clerical vestments as teachers union leaders listened. "You must meet, governor and legislators, the constitutional responsibility for adequate funding. The courts said this state, like the courts did in North Carolina, is guilty of not providing equitable (school) funding and has been guilty for nine years."

"Don't you give up, because when God made everything he looked around at all of it, not a little segment, not certain communities, not certain colors, and he declared, it was very good… The Jewish Psalmist said how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. Paul the Apostle said, in the Lord we are one blood made as one nation. We cannot accept two Americas. We cannot accept two New Yorks."

"Here in New York you must stay together and remind this governor there is something at stake here beyond just the state of the schools," Barber said. "It is the state of the soul of our society."

Cuomo is at odds with teachers for a string of critical comments about failing schools, teacher tenure abuses, and what he has described as a "monopoly" held by public schools. He has expressed strong support for the state's charter schools, which are publicly funded but are freed from some mandates and union work rules.

Cuomo also has ties to hedge fund moguls who have helped support the charter school movement.

Barber said the biggest problem is that schools in poor or inner city communities have less money and resources than schools in wealthy suburban districts. In 2014, New York was described in a report as having the most racially segregated school system in the U.S.

Barber has spearheaded Moral Monday protests in North Carolina, focused on school funding inequities and race, and organizers who invited him to Albany are clearly hoping to establish a similar large scale protest movement here. Monday's event was the second in a row, attracting hundreds of people to the Capitol, including many public school students, some from as far away as Buffalo and New York City.

Representatives of the NYSUT and UFT teachers unions also participated and spoke.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said she attended public schools, taught in public schools, and her children graduated from public schools.

"I'm a kid from the projects," she said. "A kid who had nothing but the faith and the love of my parents and the promise of America that we would educate everybody. Rich or poor should not matter."

"Are we going to allow this Capitol to be owned by the millionaires?" asked UFT teachers union leader Michael Mulgrew, prompting shouts of "no!" from the crowd.

"Four years ago, Gov. Cuomo came here, got elected and said 'I'm a liberal, I'm a progressive, but I'm a broke progressive,' " said Andrew Pallotta, the vice president of NYSUT. "We're not broke anymore. Spend the money Gov. Cuomo, don't break the promises."

"Education is a civil rights matter … the Rev. Dr. Barber came here today to call this great state, the Empire State, to action and that's why were here today," said New York NAACP leader Hazel Dukes. She called Barber "a man of moral conviction, a man of integrity, a man who was born to lead us."