ALBANY, N.Y. Jan. 28, 2014 - New York State United Teachers today called on the state Legislature to reject a "wholly inadequate" Executive Budget proposal and instead make a much stronger investment in public education to assist school districts reeling from years of devastating budget cuts and an onerous property tax cap.
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said state aid cuts during the state's fiscal crisis, including the Gap Elimination Adjustment, have combined with the tax cap - this year set at 1.46 percent - to create a "perfect storm" for school districts, starving them of the revenue they need to fund programs and staff. In addition, he said the proposal fails to address glaring inequities in how public schools are funded.
"This proposal, while containing some potentially positive program initiatives, falls far short of the investment that is needed to help New York's students meet higher standards," Iannuzzi said. "The proposed overall state aid increase is not even close to being adequate for school districts to maintain existing programs, much less bring back the programs, teachers and support staff eliminated during the worst years of the fiscal crisis. We need both a significant state aid increase and a more equitable way to distribute that aid. Our poorest and most vulnerable students cannot be asked to continue to bear a disproportionate share of the hardship and pain caused by years of cuts and now inadequate increases. That is unacceptable and immoral and must be fixed.
The union also renewed its call for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers stemming from the flawed implementation of the Common Core state standards.
In testimony to the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta noted an analysis of the proposed education budget shows that 69 percent of the state's school districts would be forced to operate with less state aid than in 2009-10, and that 62 percent would have less state support than in 2008-09. The proposed 2014-15 education budget, he noted, would direct $21.28 billion to schools, still below the 2009-10 level of $21.35 billion. Had state aid to school districts merely kept pace with inflation, the state's 674 school districts would have $2 billion more in state support than they have today, he said.
"New York's schools are still reeling from multiple years of painful cuts imposed on them," Pallotta said. "These cuts have caused class sizes to balloon, decimated course offerings and made after-school programs disappear. Students have lost opportunities to take music, art and physical education and those who are most at-risk for falling into the achievement gap have seen their safety net of support services slashed."
Instead of tax cuts for wealthy New Yorkers and regressive property tax rebates that serve as incentives for school boards to make further cuts, Pallotta said, "This is the year the Legislature must take advantage of any budget surpluses and make significant investments in public education."
Pallotta again thanked the more than 80 Assembly members who have signed a letter backing a $1.9 billion funding increase - a state aid package supported by NYSUT. He noted the Educational Conference Board, a coalition of statewide education organizations, issued a report stating that a $1.5 billion increase is needed just for school districts to avoid further cuts and maintain current programs and services.
In other budget areas, Pallotta said NYSUT supports the Executive Budget's commitment to universal, full-day pre-kindergarten and said the union would work with policymakers to find appropriate funding. Pallotta also conceptually backed new funding for after-school programs, as well as new investments in educational technology and restored and increased funding for Teacher Centers, which offer professional development for teachers tied to new standards and assessments.
Pallotta also expressed concern about a proposed Teacher Excellence Fund, drawing a clear distinction between merit pay - which NYSUT strongly opposes - and career-ladder programs which recognize and compensate teachers who take on additional responsibilities, such as mentoring new educators.
"We strongly oppose any system that interferes with the collaboration that is so important for teachers and which creates competition that interferes with teachers' cooperative efforts aimed at reaching shared educational goals," Pallotta said. "Career ladders that are collectively bargained are a much better approach."
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members. Members are pre-K-12 teachers; school-related professionals; higher education faculty; other professionals in education, human services and health care; and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO
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