The state's network of 132 teacher centers has faced cuts before, but the situation this year is dire: Gov. Paterson's Executive Budget proposal eliminates the centers' annual funding. The state Mentor Teacher-Internship Program is also on the chopping block.
"Teacher centers provide vital professional development to educators in every part of the state," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira.
Annually, more than 267,000 teachers and 41,000 teaching assistants receive professional development from the centers.
In many cases, said Lori DeMeo, a political action coordinator with the Schalmont Teachers Association, teacher centers provide 100 percent of the state-mandated 175 hours of professional development teachers must complete to maintain their certification.
"Our teacher center, the Schalmont Teachers Institute, always offers a tremendous amount of education and professional development opportunities," DeMeo said. "Most of the teachers use the teacher center. For me it's just a godsend. The teacher center is so important to keep teachers current on education and technology changes."
DeMeo is worried eliminating funding will result in yet another unfunded mandate.
Similar concerns extend to a proposal to eliminate aid for the state Mentor Teacher-Internship Program. Mentor programs provide new teachers with essential support to help benefit from experienced mentors and improve their effectiveness.
Current state regulations require all educators to complete a one-year mentoring program in order to receive their professional certification.
The program also holds implications under federal No Child Left Behind requirements. Any school receiving Title I funds that is found to be in need of improvement must incorporate a teacher mentor program.
Teacher center directors and mentor program advocates will add their voices to NYSUT's extraordinary meeting of the Committee of 100, a special lobby day, on Feb. 3.
"Closing the gap depends on educators having current research and professional development," Neira said. "Eliminating or dramatically reducing these programs will be a major impediment to the state's continuing efforts at closing the gap."
- Clarisse Butler Banks