Kara Garbarino's view of today's "One Voice United" rally in Albany comes from high atop a diving board.
Not literally, of course. Garbarino will actually be among the many thousands on the Empire State Plaza during the rally - supported by NYSUT and nearly two dozen other organizational partners - where the SUNY Oneonta communications major is volunteering to help the union's communications staff report on one of the largest events in NYSUT's history.
But Garbarino was motivated to be in Albany on this Saturday in June because she's fearful - as are so many students, parents and educators - that the policies and politics of recent years have negatively affected the educational experience of today's students. Garbarino has seen - as have so many of the other more than 10,000 expected on the Plaza today - important academic, athletic and extracurricular programs reduced or eliminated. Programs that provide students with a well-rounded education. Programs that inspire them to something greater. For Garbarino, programs like interscholastic diving.
"When school budgets get cut, often the first things to go are sports and clubs," Garbarino said. "In high school, diving helped me get into college. I was on the varsity diving team from eighth grade through my senior year and it was a big help to get colleges to notice me and, eventually, to get accepted at Oneonta."
Today’s "One Voice United" rally takes aim at the deep budgets cuts to which Garbarino alluded; cuts - exacerbated by an undemocratic property tax cap - that have public schools sputtering on $1.1 billion less in state aid this year than in 2008-09.
The rally is to focus on the missteps and failures of the State Education Department and Board of Regents in providing the guidance and resources needed to properly implementing promising reforms - including new Common Core Learning standards - that have thrown teaching and learning off track and ratcheted up the stress on students and teachers. Supporters are demanding a greater investment in public higher education, enactment of the DREAM Act and legislation to help ensure a safe, secure learning environment for every student.
"New York’s fiercely devoted, highly skilled educators, standing shoulder to shoulder with students, parents and fair-minded New Yorkers everywhere, have had it with the profiteers, billionaires and bureaucrats who confuse testing with learning and continually ignore the voices of professional educators who, along with parents everywhere, know that students are much more than a test score," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Today, we are escalating the fight for what students and educators need to succeed and for the very future of public education. It is a fight we proudly take on and a fight we will win."
At least 225 busloads of parents, educators, students and community members to Albany from schools, colleges and office buildings across the state are expected today for the "One Voice United" rally.
Scheduled speakers include journalist John Nichols of The Nation, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento, among others. Grammy-award winning folk singer Tom Chapin performs "Not on the test," a satirical song about the obsession with standardized testing. Chapin attended public schools in New York City and is a SUNY Plattsburg graduate.
Garbarino has another reason for volunteering on the rally today. It's in her blood. She is the daughter of an official of the New York State AFL-CIO, one of the rally partners, and is from a union household.
"Growing up, I was taught that you should fight for what you believe in," she said. "This is the mindset I was raised with... It is important for me to help other students, teachers and staff to raise our voice and to fight for the future of public education. I hope to see a lot of people come out today to support the cause and, hopefully, change will occur."