ALBANY, N.Y. February 3, 2009 - More than 400 teachers and other education activists from New York State United Teachers lobbied state legislators today to reverse budget cuts that would devastate programs, trigger thousands of layoffs and divert New York's momentum toward ending the achievement gap.
"We recognize the severity of the state's economic crisis, but there are alternatives to $2.5 billion in education cuts that go deeply and painfully to the heart of what students need to succeed in the world," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Instead of cutting programs and increasing the stress that already exists on local property taxes, we believe there's a better way - using the federal stimulus package as intended and asking the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay a little more."
"Restoring funding for public education will enable school districts to continue their remarkable progress toward ending the achievement gap, while preserving jobs and holding property tax increases in check," he added.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin said the more than 400 activists - members of the union's grassroots lobbying committee - arrived in Albany Tuesday morning and set out for appointments with their hometown Senate and Assembly members. They detailed for lawmakers the layoffs, program cuts and property tax increases that would be triggered by the $2.5 billion in cuts in the proposed executive budget.
Lubin said this is the first time in at least 15 years the 600,000-member union has scheduled an "extraordinary" lobby day to respond to a proposed executive budget. In addition to explaining how school aid cuts would impact programs - and property taxes - Lubin said the NYSUT members would also press for the restoration of funding for Teacher Centers, mentoring programs, BOCES and public higher education.
"New York's public schools and colleges form the foundation of the economy in many communities, particularly upstate," Lubin noted. "Cuts to valuable education programs, such as pre-kindergarten, after-school and summer school - and layoffs to teachers and paraprofessionals - will clearly jeopardize all the progress we have made toward raising standards and improving student performance."
Lubin said proposed mid-year cuts to community colleges would be particularly destructive. "New Yorkers looking for job training, or who can no longer afford four-year institutions, will increasingly turn to our community colleges for help in developing new skills," Lubin said. "Cuts to community colleges make no sense."
Lubin said the federal stimulus package winding its way through Congress would inject upwards of $6 billion in education funding to New York over the next two years - "clearly enough to reverse the cuts in the executive budget." Lubin said an increase in the state income tax for those earning more than $250,000 a year - supported by the vast majority of New Yorkers - would generate some $6 billion in additional revenue.
"For too long, New York's working families have shouldered the tax burden, paying a disproportionately high share of income taxes," Lubin said. "Asking the most affluent New Yorkers to pay their fair share will enable the state to preserve vital public services, such as education and health care, during this economic downturn. We're going to be pressing our state legislators to do right by working New Yorkers."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.