State Sen. Senator Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park) and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan) yesterday in a zoom conference supported CUNY students’ demands to increase funding for CUNY and freeze tuition during the coronavirus pandemic.
The conference came as the state’s lost tax revenue might cost drastic budget cuts for CUNY, which some estimate might end being as high as $95 million, concerning students and professors about the future of public higher education.
“We don’t believe that budget cuts to either CUNY or SUNY are appropriate and we were gearing up to fight those cuts, even before this crisis, and we’re going to continue to be fighting those cuts during this crisis and after this crisis,” said Gounardes. “And if we don’t fight back. Now we’re going to lose the future of these institutions for decades to come.”
Elected officials and students on the call agreed that taxing the wealthy could be a way to raise more money to fund education.
“We need to tax high-income earners. They have the money. They’re doing better every single day. And we need to say, you need to pay 2% more of your salary because we need to find higher education. We need to ensure people can be successful. We need resources, and we need to lower tuition not raise it,” said Epstein.
“We are seeing how on national television the governor is seen as this hero and as this leader,” said Jamell Henderson, CUNY rising coordinator, about Gov. Andrew Cuomo.“But what’s not really being told, is the everyday experiences that people on the ground are discussing.”
Students whose financial struggles had increased drastically during COVID-19 shared their experiences about food insecurity, having to choose between paying rent or tuition as well as unexpected unemployment.
“We had already lost most of our savings just to pay last month’s rent,” said Enrique Pena, an undocumented Queens College student, who has recently recovered from COVID-19. Pena and his father lost their jobs due to the coronavirus, and they were both hospitalized because of the virus. He said that he might not be able to enroll for the fall semester since he is not sure if he will be able to pay the tuition.
“We were supposed to stockpile for food, we didn’t have the savings to be able to stockpile. So we have to go to the market every few days just to replenish our supply,” said City College student Kasson Mangin.
He highlighted his community’s battle with food insecurity and mental health issues along with police brutality. “I’ve seen a lot of my family members and people in my community also mentally breaking down.”
“Governor Cuomo, we need you to fund CUNY,” said Kelsey Chatlosh, a CUNY Graduate student and an adjunct at Brooklyn College. She explained that Brooklyn College announced a 25% reduction in some course offerings for Fall and increased class sizes.
Chatlosh also expressed concern about accommodating increased class sizes, saying that she and her colleagues have already had too many students in classes struggling to find seats.
“The college literally doesn’t have a place for this,” she said. “At some point when it’s safe to return to classes, this is a huge public health concern for students and for all workers at CUNY.”
The CUNY Board of Trustees enacted a $320 tuition hike last December that resulted in an intense protest. It is unclear at post time if budget cuts will result in higher tuition increases.