While reflecting on the year that passed has real value, events dictate that we take clear aim at the year ahead. With a new governor at the Capitol, legislative power shifts in both Albany and Washington, D.C., and critics keen on vilifying our professions, public service in general and unions in particular, it should be obvious to all that we have some serious challenges ahead.
Let's start by being very clear: NYSUT remains steadfast in its principles and goals. We know that the work we do — educating our state's students, caring for some of society's most vulnerable citizens and serving the public in any number of ways — is intrinsically valuable and, despite what others might contend, the principles for which we stand serve the needs of those we serve.
Yes, NYSUT understands as well as anyone that the recession is lingering; that government is desperate to find a way out of a huge deficit; that taxpayers are feeling besieged; and that a "business-as-usual" approach isn't enough. Given these realities, we continue to be willing to sit down and discuss shared sacrifices in finding solutions to the state's problems. We have a strong track record of such cooperation. It is a record we cite with pride.
But, while we are prepared to do our part, make no mistake: NYSUT will not walk away from our obligation to educate, advocate and, when needed, to agitate. We have a responsibility to those who depend on us — our members and those we serve. We have a responsibility to fight for the resources our schools — from pre-K through higher ed — need to prepare the next generation of leaders and laborers, those who will lay the groundwork for an economic comeback and pave the way for a better future for all.
It wasn't too long ago that NYSUT committed to the organizational priority of closing the academic achievement gap — a gap that consistently reflects the schism between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and that left too many of our students behind, without an equal opportunity to share in the American dream. The students caught in this gap were, and are, primarily children of color and from low-income families. Their issues transcend the classroom. They often include health, hunger and family problems — all deeply rooted in poverty.
For a time, we all seemed to recognize that, through education and other support mechanisms, we could close the gap and begin to put all students and their families on equal footing. But, that time was short lived.
The recession fueled fear and a shift in government priorities. Instead of shrinking, the academic achievement gap and the gap between rich and poor grew wider. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 14 percent of Americans — nearly 44 million people — now live in poverty. At the very same time, we are witnessing record Wall Street bonuses and what New York Times editorial writer Bob Herbert calls a "hyper concentration of wealth and income and the overwhelming political clout it has put into the hands of the moneyed interests."
Is it simply coincidence that the very ones who demonize public servants, working families and unions are the very same ones who have amassed the greatest wealth during the worst recession?
The answer to that question defines clearly the challenges before us — challenges framed by the gap in both achievement and wealth. NYSUT, with your continued support, is prepared to meet those challenges — head on.