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Editorial: Student school-aid campaign is out of bounds

Sachem High School East on Granny Road in

Sachem High School East on Granny Road in Farmingville, N.Y. (Mar. 4, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

Teachers can't require their students to support a political cause. That's state law. And when the cause affects teachers themselves -- increasing school funding, for example -- violations are particularly egregious.

That's what appears to have happened in the Sachem school district. Some students from Sachem High School East say they were compelled by teachers to write letters to lawmakers pushing more state aid to schools. Other students said they understood the campaign to be voluntary. Several said teachers gave detailed instructions -- highlighting the fact that the kids could lose out on extracurricular activities like sports and clubs if a proposed $2-million cut in the district's state aid holds up.

It's bad enough that high school students were involved, but a union official reported that, "We had kindergarten teachers who had their kids write and draw" for the district's effort. Involving small children -- who can't begin to understand the finances and politics of the issue -- is inexcusable.

The preliminary numbers for 2013-14 state aid to schools have a lot of Long Island districts worried. Statewide, aid to schools has increased by 4 percent, but a shift of money toward poorer areas, on Long Island and elsewhere, has some districts looking at large cuts.

There's a real debate to be had about the wisdom of that path. But requiring or encouraging students to engage in biased activism is wrong. And it raises the question: If school resources are so tight, wasn't there something the kids could have been learning during the time they were penning these letters?