WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — When Johanna Garcia attended Mott Hall almost thirty years ago, her homeroom was not only a classroom, it was also her cafeteria and her gym.
“I spent a lot of time in that room,” Garcia, 42, said with a laugh, adding that sometimes she would stretch and find an old French fry from earlier in the day. “We were crowded in there.”
But Garcia, now a mom of three, never expected her children to have the same experience.
Her children — between the ages of 5 and 15 — have each attended P.S. 187, which is part of the same school district she attended. And although a lot has improved, Garcia said there’s more that needs to be done.
To raise awareness for underfunded New York City schools, Garcia plans to take the first leg of an annual 150-mile march from the city to Albany, along with students, parents and educators across the state.
The annual “Ed Walk for CFE” — put together by almost 100 different organizations — commemorates a school funding case from 2006, which decided that New York State was “violating the constitutional rights of millions of New York students by deliberately underfunding public schools,” according to a statement from organizers the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE).
Schools have been waiting for additional funding for more than a decade, AQE said.
The group, which released a report on Thursday, stated that schools across the state are currently still owed $3.9 billion, with New York City — the largest school district — owed $1.63 billion. In Northern Manhattan’s District 6, A. Philip Randolph Campus High School in Harlem leads the list with more than $2 million owed, and then P.S. 189 in Washington Heights with more than $1.5 billion. The Harbor Heights Middle School in Washington Heights is the least owed within the district at approximately $238,415.
Garcia's son, who was diagnosed with dyslexia, struggles to get the extra help he needs, and has little access to the assistive technology that other schools might be able to provide, she said.
“It has been a struggle, because schools are overcrowded, [they] don’t have the technology, staff doesn’t have the access to the training for material, to adequately reach kids like my son," Garcia said.
Garcia said she has a “utopian” view of what should be done with the money, which she hopes will be allocated this school year.
“I envision — immediately — class sizes would go down, immediately a full arts program, foreign language, technology in the classrooms, professional developments for our teachers, intervention services for our struggling readers, infrastructure and space to provide extracurricular activities,” she said.
Organizers hope that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will commit to distributing what they say is owed to each school before he completes his term in office.
The statewide march will span nine days and starts in New York City on Sunday, Oct. 2, where it will continue into Yonkers and Hudson Valley, with groups from Buffalo, Rochester and Utica joining in “solidarity walks” on Thursday, Oct. 6 for the National Day of Walk-Ins.
Garcia, who has been marching for almost a decade, said she’s hoping this is will be her last march.
“This fight was fought for us already, and here we are – every single year,” she said. “Give it to us. This was already awarded to us.”