NYSUT grassroots activists swarmed over the Capitol Tuesday to push for more progress and fair funding for public K-12 and higher education, and for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences from standardized tests and other changes to the way Common Core was implemented by the state.
The Assembly has introduced a moratorium bill (A8929) that would reform many aspects of Common Core and testing, including: prohibiting for two school years the use of high-stakes tests for certain educator and student decisions; banning certain kindergarten and pre-kindergarten standardized tests; reducing testing for students; protecting student data, and increasing supports for students and teachers.
Union activists pushed state Senators to do the same.
“Remember that you are the ones who brought it to this point,” President Dick Iannuzzi told union activists Monday night. "The same kind of strength we’ve put behind the testing and moratorium bill, we need behind our advocacy for funding and higher education.”
Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta also reminded the Committee of 100 members that "politics is union business."
"We are here to visit with lawmakers, because no victory can be won without being in the business of politics,” he said. The same is true of the moratorium bill, sponsored by Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan and Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“Your advocacy will bring it home,” said Pallotta, who heads the union’s legislative efforts.
During visits with virtually every member of the Legislature, Committee participants asked their Assembly members if they would support the moratorium bill and their Senators if they will introduce a corresponding bill in the Senate, which does not yet have a version.
Naturally, with an April 1 deadline looming, the state budget was a huge topic Tuesday. Members advocated for restoration of foundation aid for K-12 schools, and an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has drained money from schools to the tune of billions of dollars. One puzzle is what to do with the $2.2 billion surplus the governor, in his executive budget proposal, plans to spend on a tax cutting package that will benefit mostly wealthy New Yorkers.
“If the purpose of the GEA was to address a deficit, and now we have a surplus, why do we even still have a GEA?” asked Nadia Resnikoff of the Middle Country Teachers Association and a NYSUT Board member.
The governor has shortchanged schools for years, said Seth Cohen, Troy TA president, “and now that you have the surplus, you put it back in to the program. You don’t send out a $250 check in October to buy a vote. It’s ridiculous,” he said.
The volunteer lobbyists shared the pain cuts in state aid, coupled with the undemocratic tax cap, have had on programs and people.
“Parents are very upset,” said Gabe Smith of the Averill Park TA. “A school is a community identity that people take pride in. We used to have five business teachers at the high school. Now, we have none.”
Leslie Deninno, a NYSUT PAC coordinator, lamented the demise of so many arts programs that have been doomed by budget cuts.
“We are not a one-size fits all education system,” she said.
The tax cap also came under question for its unconstitutionality. “The 60 percent requirement to pierce the cap defeats the one-person, one-vote foundation that our country was built on,” said Steven Izzo of Hempstead Classroom TA in a a meeting with Assembly Deputy Speaker Earlene Hooper. “We should at least get that right. It’s not fair.”
Teams of NYSUT members from across the union’s spectrum of constituencies also spoke up for the Public Higher Education Initiative.
“We need to support the full funding and an endowment for SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges. That is where most of our students are going to go for their higher education,” said Barbara Hafner, of the West Hempstead EA and a NYSUT Board member, said.
As the full Legislature prepares to elect four members of the Board of Regents next week, NYSUT activists pushed lawmakers to put some new blood on the state’s policy-making education panel.
“I would like to see more people on the Regents with more classroom experience,” said Jennifer Curley of the Elmira TA. “There are too many who are just out of touch.”
Members also spoke out against Cuomo’s proposal to spend $20 million to establish a competitive merit pay program for teachers.
“Would they prefer to treat teachers like they work in a used auto lot?” posed Robert Reis of the White Plains TA.
Legislators seemed unenthusiastic about the merit pay scheme, anyway, and suggested the $20 million would be better spent to restore funding for Teacher Centers, which the governor zeroed out in his plan.
On a day when the Capitol was bustling with visitors from other advocacy groups, NYSUT’s more than 500 volunteers stood out.
“The governor has said he’s the students’ lobbyist,” said Eric Olson of the Brittonkill TA. “He’s wrong. Teachers are the students’ lobbyists. We care about what’s best for the kids.”