FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 2007
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ADDRESSES EDUCATION REFORMS AND ENSURING FAIR FUNDING FOR ALL SCHOOLS IN SPEECHES AT TWO CHURCHES IN SOUTHEAST QUEENS
The Following is the Text of Mayor Bloomberg's Speech as Prepared for Delivery at the New Jerusalem Baptist Church. The Mayor Delivered a Similar Speech at Mount Moriah AME Church.
"Thank you, Reverend Rice, and good morning everyone. Recently, someone told me a story about another congregation - not too far from here -that was growing so fast that they needed to build a bigger church.
"So, the Reverend got up one Sunday and announced to his congregation: 'I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money to pay for our new building program. The bad news is it's still out there in your pockets.' I'll have to remember that line for our upcoming budget negotiations with the City Council.
"It's wonderful to be here this morning in Southeast Queens. This is one community where people never hesitate to reach deep into their pockets - and deep into their hearts - to help their fellow New Yorkers. I'm pleased to be here today and also to introduce two guests I've brought with me: Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Martine Guerrier, our new chief Family Engagement Officer at the Department of Education.
"I'm going to say a bit more about the work she'll be doing and also about the challenges we're facing in our schools in a minute, but since we're in church, I'd like to begin by talking a little bit about 'the good news.'
"Last year, unemployment in our city -though never low enough - hit an all-time low. Crime also fell to a more than 40-year low. And, in our schools, math and reading scores are up, graduation rates are at a 20-year high, and drop-out rates are at their lowest point since we started keeping track. Now, I'm the first to say that - although we're making real progress in the schools - we still have much more to do. And I'd like to tell you a little about our latest efforts this morning - and how we got here.
"Five years ago, we committed to making our schools places where every child has the opportunity to realize his or her dreams. And we've put the City's money behind that commitment. Today, we spend $3.5 billion more in City tax dollars on our schools than we did when I took office. We're also in the midst of an historic $13.1 billion capital plan to create more than 100 new school buildings and 100,000 new classroom seats by 2009.
"Not only have we increased our investment in schools, we've also raised standards. We ended the shameful practice of social promotion in key grades, and we've lengthened the school day for students who need extra help. We've also expanded 'gifted and talented' programs to schools that had never had them before - schools where student achievement had long been stunted by low expectations. And, we've begun offering the PSAT free-of-charge to all 10th and 11th graders. In just one year, we were able to increase the number of students taking that test by nearly 10,000. That's 10,000 more kids who are now thinking seriously about college and their futures.
"By setting the bar high and holding students accountable for results, we're sending our kids the message that we believe in them. And now, not only is classroom performance improving throughout the city, we're also finally beginning to close the achievement gap between different ethnic groups. But even today, more than 40% of all students don't graduate in four years, and only one in four Black or Hispanic students graduate with a Regents degree.
"Education is the surest predictor of future success, and if we don't reverse this trend, many of our kids will face very bleak futures. We just can't let that happen. Improving our schools is the great civil rights challenge of our time - and we're determined to meet it. For too many years, special interests came before student interests - and our kids paid the price. But we're not going back to those bad old days - not ever. Here are some of the next steps we're taking to give all students the education they deserve. First, we're going to empower our leaders at the school level - the principals - by giving them the authority and responsibility to fix problems and help students succeed.
"Second, we're going to make sure that every student has a quality teacher. Over the past five years, we've shown our teachers just how much we value the important jobs they do by raising their salaries by more than 43%. But let's face it - there are some teachers who receive tenure who probably shouldn't. So, beginning this year, we're going to make the tenure process more accountable and more rigorous.
"Third, we're going to level the playing field by doing away with a decades-old funding system that gives some schools unfair advantages over others. You won't believe this, but today, funding gaps between comparable schools can top $1 million - or $2,000 per student, year after year. Some schools with high numbers of poor students, and some schools in black and Latino communities have not been getting their fair share. This is wrong, and it has to stop. Starting in September, we're going to fund students instead of schools - basing our investment on the number of students enrolled and their particular needs.
"For each of these reforms, we will have to overcome resistance from those who have a vested interest in the status quo. But the fact is, either we fund schools fairly, or we don't. Either we give all of our students a quality teacher, or we don't. Either we build a strong future for our city by doing what we know is right, or we don't. I believe that our children are capable of greatness. And over the next three years I'm going to continue to push to make sure that all schools give our children the chance to achieve that greatness.
"Of course there's another group we're depending on to help our kids achieve greatness - and that's you, the parents. We know that well-informed parents and families are the best education resource we have. That's why one of our very first reforms was to put a parent coordinator in every school. Last year, those coordinators returned some 1.4 million phone calls to parents, and held three-quarters of a million face-to-face meetings with them.
"Now, we're taking the next steps to give parents an even stronger voice in the schools. We're going to start sending out report cards that grade every individual school so that parents can hold a principal's feet to the fire when their school isn't performing. And last week, I appointed Martine as the Department of Education's first Chief Family Engagement Officer. Her role will be to engage parents and represent their views in decision-making at the highest levels of the Department of Education. In the coming weeks, she'll be meeting with and listening to parents in all five boroughs and we thought there was no better way to kick-off that effort than to bring her here.
"Our school system is clearly headed in the right direction, and in every area of city life, we've come a long way from where we were just a few years ago. Our future looks bright, but our challenge is to make sure that everyone - in every community - shares a stake in that future. And that means making sure that all people, in all communities, are treated with respect.
"I know that people in our city - particularly here in Southeast Queens - are still very angry about the shooting of Sean Bell, and that you still have many questions - as do I. And that's why, over these past few months we have been here in the community, talking and listening, and also responding - by bringing in a respected, independent group to conduct a thorough review of the Police Department's firearms training, and its policies concerning undercover operations. We have a responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that a tragedy like this doesn't happen again.
"In times of tragedy, New Yorkers always pull together - and we depend on community leaders and clergy to help us do it. So I want to thank Reverend Rice, who has been participating in the community meetings that Congressman Meeks has been holding, and who has been an important voice for healing - and justice.
"If we keep listening to each other, keep committing ourselves to do better - as parents, as neighbors, as brothers and sisters, there is no challenge that we can't meet. As long as we keep working together, the best days for Southeast Queens, and for all of New York, are yet to come."
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958
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