NYC Teens Spotlight School Funding Woes On Stage : NPR Ed A lawsuit over the way public schools are financed in the state became so dramatic that it inspired some New York City high school students to write a play about it.

NYC Teens Spotlight School Funding Woes On Stage

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In New York, a lawsuit over the way public schools are financed became so dramatic that it inspired some high schoolers to write a play about it. Beth Fertig of member station WNYC reports.

BETH FERTIG, BYLINE: Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Martinez goes to a small high school in the Bronx. It shares space with another school, and it's got some quirks, like a room called the gymnatorium.

VANESSA MARTINEZ: It's a gym and an auditorium together. So when you're trying to play basketball, you have to watch out for the poles that support the auditorium. Otherwise, the basketball bounces back to you, it hits someone in the eye, infirmary (laughter).

FERTIG: And don't get her started on the lack of equipment. Vanessa and her friend, Raymond Sanchez, go to the Bronx High School for Writing and Communication Arts. It's in a low-income neighborhood, and the student body is almost entirely black and Hispanic. They didn't question their situation until last summer.

MARTINEZ: We looked at each other and then we said, this isn't normal.

FERTIG: Here's what happened. Vanessa and Raymond, who are self-described theater geeks, are members of the Epic Theater Ensemble. It's a group that encourages teens to write and perform about social issues. Last year's subject was school funding, and the kids learned about a 2006 landmark court ruling. It found New York did not provide the city and other districts with enough money for what its state constitution calls a minimally adequate education.

RAYMOND SANCHEZ: We were all just so caught up on the words minimally adequate

MARTINEZ: 'Cause minimally adequate to us is the same thing as saying your teachers can be OK. You don't need great teachers. You don't need superb teachers.

FERTIG: The students took that outrage and they channeled it into a play.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (As character) The minimally adequate players present a minimally adequate poem.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (As character) How now.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: (As character) Brown cow. The end.


FERTIG: The audience of teachers and students at this recent production loved that line. There are 17 kids in the theater group from three different schools in New York City. So they had a lot of material.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: (As character) This class has nothing to do with the credit that I need for college.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: (As character) Miss, can I go to the bathroom?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: (As character) Yeah, me too.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: (As character) Can I go too?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: (As character) No, you can't go to the bathroom.

FERTIG: They interviewed teachers and parents to include how they're affected by the lack of education funding. They also interviewed city school officials and politicians and showed how they didn't always get answers to their questions.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #6: (As character) I believe you need to ask the mayor. He'll be able to give you more of an insight. The state does provide money for education, just not for the Bronx, Queens, or Brooklyn, or the city.

FERTIG: Despite a court order, the state never fully funded the schools. Its plans were interrupted by the 2008 financial crisis. By some estimates, almost $2 billion are still owed to New York City alone. The play is called "10467," named after a ZIP code in the Bronx. But the students are now performing it all over the state.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: (As character) Why do we stand down?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: (As character) Why do we stand down?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #7: (As character) Why do we stand down?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (As character) When we should stand up.


FERTIG: Ten years after that big court order, there's another lawsuit now over whether the state's done enough to comply. For NPR News, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.

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