It’s a shame that the school children of New York have become pawns in the never-ending game of blame that surrounds budget-making in Albany.
The latest development is that the MTA, a creature of the state, threatens to reduce or eliminate free fares for 584.000 students. These students, who now receive free or half-fare MetroCards, would all get half-fare cards beginning next September. In September, 2011, they would have to pay full fares -- about $700 for a full year at present rates.
For many students this could mean ending school choice, a program strongly supported by Mayor Bloomberg. If a student doesn’t have the money to afford transportation, the student might not be able to go to a school that requires traveling across the city.
The MTA thinks the city or the state should pay directly for this program. Various politicians and officials are wrangling basically over what budget pot this money should come from -- should the state foot the bill? The city? Or should there be some special tax to provide for this purpose?
David Bloomfield, the former general counsel for the city’s Department of Education, warned that, if this cut goes through, there would be major court challenges. "If suburban students have the right to transportation, " he told The New York Times that urban families would probably demand the same.
"I believe it would have a devastating impact, especially on kids over 17. This might be just another reason for dropping out of school."
MTA Chairman Jay Walder and his board voted to phase out the student MetroCards after Governor Paterson and the Legislature voted to cut the state contribution to this program from 45 million to 6 million dollars. Now the Governor expresses optimism the money will be found somewhere -- and so does Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, a tireless critic of the MTA.
The fate of the kids’ rides hangs in the balance. They’ll have to watch from the sidelines while their future is decided.