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Screenshot from the Facebook Live forum.
Screenshot from the Facebook Live forum.

The three Democratic candidates running for state assembly in New York’s 39th District discussed the issue of school overcrowding and quality of education in a bilingual Facebook Live candidate forum on Aug. 30.

Last Thursday, Assemblywoman Ari Espinal joined candidates Catalina Cruz and Yonel Letellier Sosa in the 90 -minute Facebook forum broadcast by QNS, The Queens Courier and El Correo, which took place in Schneps office in Bayside.

All three candidates were on the same page about the issues plaguing their district including the quality of education for students in Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and Corona. Espinal, Cruz and Sosa agreed that school overcrowding was one of the root issues for the diminished education equality within District 39.

Sosa used P.S. 19 on Roosevelt Avenue and 99th Street in Corona as an example of the overcrowding the district has been facing for years. He shared that over 20 years ago the school was deemed overcrowded but it took the district until now to open up a new school to remedy the issue.

“Basically it took 20 years to fix that problem and this is a problem throughout our whole district. There’s a lot of bureaucracy and it takes so many years,” Sosa said.

The candidate added that the school overcrowding resulted in students attending classes in trailers that did not have proper heating or cooling mechanisms and bathrooms located outside the trailers.

Espinal noted the funding she had already secured since being elected in April 2018. The assemblywoman ran unopposed in the District 39 election, replacing former Assemblyman Francisco Moya.

“Bringing back $217,000 back to fund schools in my district was really important to me,” Espinal said. “Bringing back money to P.S. 14, P.S. 89, P.S. 69, P.S. 110 was something that I was very vocal [about] when I went to the Assembly.”

The assemblywoman added that it was imperative for her to create relationships with Democratic and Republican Assembly members when discussing the issue of education. Espinal recalled how she and then-Assemblyman Moya invited Republican representatives to the district to witness the state of education in the area schools.

“When they saw that we had kids learning in trailers — when they had to leave the trailers to use the bathroom or go to lunch — it was unfair and they saw that firsthand.”

As a product of New York’s public school system, Cruz had experienced classroom overcrowding as a student. But the candidate also highlighted the unforeseen issues that come with the current education system, including a lack of confidence and self-esteem that some students face.

“We’re putting too much emphasis on testing, testing that is supposed to tell us if the school is good [or] if the teacher is good. But the one thing that it’s doing is creating psychological problems with our children,” Cruz said.

“Children no longer want to go to school because they feel like they may not be good enough — a child should never be made to feel like they’re not good enough — and we’re not putting enough emphasis on making sure that they get arts programs, they get health education, that they get early sex education,” said the candidate, who added that she wanted to implement these initiatives for school children in District 39.

The Democratic primary is on Thursday, Sept 13. The winner between Espinal, Cruz and Sosa will go on to represent NY-39 in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Watch part one and part two of the full debate below.

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