February 12, 2009

Federal aid is on the way

Source: New York Teacher
Caption: Kevin Peterman of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and Tom Laraia from Elwood Teachers Association stride toward their first appointments with lawmakers. Photo by Michael Campbell.

The check is almost in the mail.

With a $789 billion federal stimulus deal in place, Congressional leaders expected to vote on the final package by the end of this week and send it to President Obama by Monday. Even with the president set to sign the bill, however, union leaders say their work is far from over. Next task: making sure the state uses the funds to stave off massive layoffs and unconscionable cuts to education and health care.

"Through NYSUT members' phone calls, faxes and visits, our lawmakers in Washington heard our message loud and clear," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. "And they responded with a tangible investment in education and health care that will help us all get through these difficult economic times. Our work isn't done. Now it's up to all of us to make sure that same message is heard in Albany."

Iannuzzi was part of a coalition of leaders who were in Washington for a series of meetings with Congressional leadership on Capitol Hill as the bill made its way through a joint Senate-House conference committee.

After intense negotiations, lawmakers came to agreement on the $789 billion plan.

The plan includes $53.6 billion in a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, with $40.6 billion to be allocated to local school districts using existing funding formulas. Based on early estimates, New York should receive about $2.5 billion of this funding over two years. "This is funding that should be used to restore cuts to our schools and public colleges," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin.

The bill also includes $13 billion for Title I and more than $12 billion for IDEA.

The bill was expected to pass both houses and be ready for President Obama's signature by President's Day.

Now the fight returns to Albany. Union leaders are urging the governor to use a mix of the federal stimulus funds, responsible budget trimming and a more progressive personal income tax plan to close the state's estimated $14 billion deficit.

"Especially in difficult times, education and health care are the foundation of the state's economy," Lubin said. "With the influx of cash from Washington and asking the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay their fair share, the state will be able to protect public education and health care services, while preserving the jobs of thousands of working New Yorkers."

Several news outlets are reporting that Gov. Paterson has said he will resist any attempts to use the federal funds to restore budget cuts. The governor's budget proposal calls for $2.5 billion in cuts to K-12 education aid and more than $300 million in higher education cuts.

True union blue

Luz C. Minaya of the United Federation of Teachers
Luz C. Minaya of the United Federation of Teachers listens to a briefing before meeting with lawmakers to discuss federal aid to education. Photo by Michael Campbell.

The state's - and nation's - dire economic crises have evoked an unprecedented response by unionists. From sending thousands of faxes to lawmakers in Albany and Washington, to attending a federal lobby day, NYSUT members have heeded the union's calls for action.

Nationwide, members of the American Federation of Teachers showed their 'true blue' support Feb. 10 for getting the federal stimulus Nationwide, members of the American Federation of Teachers showed their 'true blue' support Feb. 10 for getting the federal stimulus deal done. The same day, dozens of New York educators headed to the nation's capital.

"Even though Congressmen Tim Bishop and Steve Israel are very much supportive of our issues, it was important that we visit them and let them know we're grateful for what they're doing," said Tim Southerton, president of the Sayville Teachers Association.

Southerton and educators representing almost every congressional district in the state traveled to Washington for a timely federal lobby day urging support for the federal stimulus package.

- Clarisse Butler Banks