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By William Diep• April 24, 2023 at 8:32 PM

The nonprofit Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, on behalf of The People’s Plan—a coalition of New York City advocacy organizations fighting for educational equity and reallocation of the city’s “austerity budget”—hosted a rally in Sakura Park on Sunday to protest against the city’s budget cuts to public schools, libraries, universities, and parks.

In attendance at the rally was Shaun Abreu, CC ’14, New York City Council member for District 7, who spoke in support of the organization’s #CareNotCuts campaign, which advocates for prioritizing funding of public schools and libraries in the city budget.

“We want to make sure we’re partnering and engaging with groups who are focused on issues that cut across the entirety of District 7, and today we know that JFREJ is fighting to restore funding for our libraries and our schools,” Abreu said. “We care and we don’t want cuts, and so we are here to tell folks that we were with them.”
In the 2024 fiscal year, the New York City Department of Education will face a three percent budget cut, which could amount to $421 million. The city’s libraries are also projected to lose $20.5 million in each of the next three fiscal years.

Abreu said he wishes for students to be in a safe school environment where they have the ability to improve and excel in their education.

“We need our students to have an environment where they can thrive and learn and grow,” Abreu said. “It’s incumbent on us as elected officials to make sure that we make that happen.”

Madeleine Elfenbein, an organizer with JFREJ, expressed her wishes to continue resisting the proposed budget cuts.

“We’re watching pretty closely to see if he can support a progressive agenda with the budget for funding for public institutions and also criminal justice reform,” Elfenbein said.

Jules Rose, an organizer with JFREJ, said New York City Council members made budget recommendations that did not satisfy New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who they said prioritized the police over education.

“We also wanted to highlight and discuss how the New York City Council had recommendations that were slightly better than Mayor Adams’ recommendations, but they didn’t go far enough for what the people want,” Rose said. “The police, which we agree as a group, does not keep us safe.”

Rose said they wanted to use this rally as a space for families to speak directly with Abreu about his stances on Adams’ education budget cuts.

“We wanted to give families with children, [an] opportunity to speak directly with their councilperson and also just gather in community and raise awareness,” Rose said.

Like Elfenbein, Rose urged City Council members to oppose the current budget cuts and continue funding public schools and libraries.

“The bottom line is we need to hold the line for budget cuts,” Rose said. “We need to see zero cuts to public education, zero cuts to public libraries.”

Hallie Chametzky, an organizer with JFREJ, agreed with Elfenbein and Rose and said she opposed Adams’ budget cuts, as public schools and libraries improve the quality of life in New York City.

“Mayor Adams is proposing cuts to essential public institutions like libraries and parks, on public schools,” Chametzky said. “And we just fundamentally believe that those are the things that make our city wonderful.”

Chametzky emphasized the necessity for well-funded public institutions, stating that “there’s no one in the city who exists separately from public institutions.”
“There’s nothing that’s sort of offering what public schools and public libraries and public parks are offering, which are egalitarian spaces where people from all backgrounds regardless of income, regardless of any sort of identity or background, have the right to be and are supported in being there.”

Elfenbein, Rose, and Chametzky all agreed that Adams continued to prioritize the police over public education, with Chametzky stating that New Yorkers will feel safe when they have access to public institutions.

“We just deeply believe that care and safety will not come from the police,” Chametzky said. “And that care and safety [comes] when people have schools and libraries and they have physical services, mental health services.”

Click here to read the piece from Columbia Spectator