ALBANY, N.Y. March 31, 2014 - New York State United Teachers said fierce advocacy helped boost overall K-12 school aid by $1.1 billion, but the final budget being adopted today includes unacceptable tax policies that favor the wealthy and puts the wishes of hedge fund donors and the charter industry over the educational needs of the 97 percent of students who attend regular public schools.
NYSUT said its advocacy work, which included a major ad campaign and alliances with key coalition partners, helped convince lawmakers to increase school aid by some $500 million over the governor's proposal and welcomed a new $340 million investment in universal full-day pre-kindergarten programs. While NYSUT recognized the efforts and commitment of many lawmakers, especially in the Assembly, it noted the final spending plan falls considerably short of what the Board of Regents and the Educational Conference Board said was necessary to avoid further cuts.
"With $1 billion in Gap Elimination Adjustments still remaining and school districts facing a horrific property tax freeze on top of an undemocratic tax cap, it's difficult to see how schools will be able to meet the needs of our state's most vulnerable children without further cuts," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi.
In higher education, Iannuzzi said the final state budget produced some victories, including a $75 boost in per-student community college aid and $26.3 million more for the Tuition Assistance Program that helps make college more affordable for working families. He noted, however, that SUNY and CUNY would have to rely more on tuition because of insufficient state funding.
NYSUT also noted the state budget is notable for what it does not contain. The union defeated a back-door voucher scheme that would have directed public money to private and non-public schools. And, while NYSUT said the so-called property tax freeze offers a twisted incentive for districts to further cut programs and services to students, the union succeeded in preventing the tax cap from becoming permanent. The union also again killed a proposal to privatize SUNY Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, NYSUT applauded budget language that removes New York from the inBloom data sharing project; stops standardized testing in pre-k through second-grade; rolls back other testing and protects students from the most harmful effects of the State Education Department's bungled implementation of the Common Core standards. But, NYSUT said Gov. Andrew Cuomo blocked efforts to extend those protections to teachers and principals.
Iannuzzi said, "Bad tests for students are bad tests for teachers, too. SED's standardized testing is flawed and its implementation of the Common Core remains atrocious. Students must be protected from the harm of obsessive testing, but how can the governor pretend these same flawed tests should be used in teacher evaluations? There's no logic to that. Teachers embrace accountability but expect evaluations to be fair and credible."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said tax giveaways to the banking industry and multi-millionaires would cost the state revenue that could be used to support its public schools, colleges and human services institutions. He said that by increasing state support to charter schools, lawmakers acquiesced to the wishes of hedge fund operators and charter industry operatives who have showered Albany with campaign contributions.
"It's astonishing how quickly the governor and Senate moved to give the charter industry more state money - money they didn't ask for until three weeks ago and money their own audits show they don't need," Pallotta said. "With schools still reeling from devastating budget cuts, it is unconscionable that some in Albany would abandon students and schools in their own communities and bow to the wishes of donors and wealthy benefactors of charter schools without a fight."
New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.