ALBANY, N.Y. March 17, 2008 - As state government's focus returns to the budget, some 900 education and health care activists from New York State United Teachers will urge their legislators Tuesday to abandon artificial tax caps and fulfill last year's historic commitment to state's public schools.
The 900 educators - including teachers, health care workers, other school professionals and SUNY and CUNY faculty - will pour out of buses to meet with their state legislators. They will begin arriving at the Empire State Plaza concourse on Madison Ave. at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, March 18. NYSUT members will proudly walk the corridors of the Capitol and Legislative Office Building wearing black graduation mortarboards to remind state senators and Assembly members to support "the right kind of cap" - not one that would rob voters of local control of their schools while slowly dismantling funding for public education.
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said the activists will tell their hometown legislators that they must demonstrate a commitment to children and public schools. "New York must keep its promises to all children in an equitable way in order to guarantee equal access to a quality education for every public school child," he said.
"Closing the achievement gap means meeting the needs of our neediest schools and our neediest children and, at the same time, not ignoring those children who attend our most successful schools," Iannuzzi said. He added, "Investing in public schools and protecting all children and all school districts from the rollercoaster of economic cycles is the best way to continue on our path of educational progress and lift our state's economy."
Executive Vice President Alan Lubin addresses activists Monday evening. Photo by Steve Whitney.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin said the 585,000-member union will also deliver a strong message to legislators who, in about eight weeks, are expected to hear recommendations from a special commission set up to examine ways to rein in property taxes.
"An artificial and arbitrary tax cap would be a sledgehammer that would destroy the progress New York's public education system has made," Lubin said.
Lubin said the NYSUT grassroots activists would provide information to legislators about the devastation to public education caused by tax caps in California and other states.
Lubin, who heads the union's legislative and political action division, said tax caps do nothing to change the rising costs facing school districts for health care, fuel costs, insurance and electricity - all of which are beyond the control of school boards. "A tax cap would only make it harder for schools to provide the services our children need, while taking local decision-making out of the hands of parents," Lubin said.
"In a sense, New York already has a tax cap - annual school budget votes in May when residents can directly decide the appropriate amount to spend to support public schools. Last year, a record 95 percent of the budgets passed on the first vote," Lubin noted. "Parents and community members want to look at what their local schools need, examine the proposed school budgets and decide for themselves - not have Albany do it for them."
Lubin, however, said the union acknowledged the need to address rising property taxes, particularly for those on fixed incomes. He said a better option may be a "circuit breaker" that would essentially "cap" an individual household's property taxes as a percentage of their income. This type of tax relief would help low- and moderate-income homeowners who need it most, especially seniors.
Meanwhile, Lubin said the activists would also focus their discussions with legislators on the urgent need to reverse proposed cuts to BOCES and community colleges; increase aid to the State University and City University systems; and fund an endowment to support public higher education.
"The state's commitment to SUNY and CUNY will, in many ways, dictate how strongly New York recovers from this latest economic downturn," Lubin said. "SUNY, CUNY and community colleges should be the foundation of plans to revive New York's economy, especially upstate."
NYSUT represents more than 585,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.