For (Make the Road by Walking member) Irania Sánchez, no issue is more important than her daughter’s education.
But here in New York, according to the 2000 census, more than one in three residents is foreign-born. For Sánchez – as for so many other immigrant parents who are still learning English – language can become a huge obstacle to participating in a child’s education.
"I am taking [English] classes," said Sánchez, who lives in Brooklyn. "But I don’t want to wait until my English is perfect to be involved in my daughter’s education."
That is why on Dec. 21, the City Council passed the Education Equity Act, or Intro 464-A.
The legislation would require public schools to provide translation services to parents with limited knowledge of English. It would make it possible for Sánchez and thousands like her to actively participate in the education of their children – something that many people, Mayor Bloomberg included, deems as desirable and helpful.
Intro 464-A would make schools provide translation into the city’s eight most common languages after English – Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Bengali, Creole, Korean, Urdu and Arabic.
Yet Bloomberg, a true man of his word, vetoed the Education Equity Act last month, as he had said he would if it was passed by the Council.
He did this despite the fact that in a city like New York, where 43% of public school students come from homes in which English is not the primary language, Intro 464-A would have made a lot of sense.
But, as we said, the mayor is a man of his word. And he vetoed it while at the same time saying he supports the bill’s intent. He said he believes that under state law, only the Education Department or Albany has the authority to legislate education issues.
"The bill is about our children’s future, not bureaucracy," argued Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens), who introduced the bill.
Their kids’ education was what immigrant parents had in mind when they – along with advocates and politicians – rallied Tuesday outside City Hall. They called on Council Speaker Christine Quinn to schedule a vote to override the veto before the March 2 deadline.
"The choice is clear," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, one of the rally organizers. "This is an unprecedented opportunity for the City Council to send a clear message to immigrant parents – we want and need your involvement for all our children to succeed. The Council must override the veto."
Yet a Tuesday ruling by the state Court of Appeals may make it more difficult for Intro 464-A to become law, even if the veto is overridden.
By a 4-to-3 vote, the court decided that the mayor can ignore any Council law that he believes violates state or federal statute – which is the reason Bloomberg raised for vetoing the Education Equity Act.
Experts think the ruling alters the balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches, with the executive clearly the winner. The Council would have to prove in court the legality of the laws it passes.
For Monserrate, it is not such a big deal. "The Council could appeal the ruling," he said.
But according to Hong, "This is not about a legal argument, but about the fact that for almost 50% of parents, English is not their first language. The mayor made a big mistake."
Added Monserrate, "The bottom line is that we need to ensure that our children – all our children – are receiving the best education possible."
And it is up to the City Council to override the veto and begin to correct the mayor’s mistake.