As 2012 dawns, New York's fiscal picture might well be turning a corner, and it will require persistent advocacy to make sure the state stays on the right track. Lawmakers and policymakers must do the right thing for children, for the professionals who teach or care for them, and for working men and women who are the backbone of the state's economy.
Here's a look at some of the challenges ahead, what NYSUT plans to do, and how you can take action:
Investing in what's needed for pre-K-12 education
Last year's budget slashed $1.3 billion in education funding, resulting in the loss of 11,000 education jobs and cuts to school programs and services. Lawmakers, however, committed to restoring $805 million — 4 percent — in school aid for 2012-13. NYSUT will hold them to it, and will press for a higher level of restoration.
School districts, except for New York City, will confront a tax cap for the first time this spring. Municipalities and city councils in the so-called Big Four school districts — Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers — can grant themselves a tax cap waiver if 60 percent of those elected agree. Other school districts can override the cap, but only if 60 percent of voters agree.
NYSUT will assist locals in educating voters in their districts about the negative impact of the tax cap.
YOU CAN TAKE ACTION! Invite your lawmakers and communities to tour your schools and spend time in your classrooms. Show them how students have been adversely affected by cuts. If you are in BOCES, Special Act schools and 4201 schools, make sure lawmakers and residents alike know about the important work you do for students in need.
Demonstrating support for higher education
New York's public colleges and universities have lost a breathtaking $1.7 billion in state funding since 2008. In 2012, NYSUT plans to reclaim public higher education for all New Yorkers by aggressively seeking funding that secures the future of SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges.
NYSUT has already secured a Maintenance of Effort agreement, meaning the state will not diminish its aid for the next five years, under last year's New York-SUNY 2020 legislation. In addition, adequate funding and an initiative for more full-time faculty are priorities this year. NYSUT will be vigilant on behalf of the community colleges, which President Obama has hailed as critical links to economic recovery. Tops on the list for those campuses: adequate funding and the protection of chargebacks.
YOU CAN TAKE ACTION! Be active in your local — administrators and local lawmakers do take notice. Participate in NYSUT's Higher Education Advocacy Day and the Committee of 100 (see calendar on page 8) — there is strength in numbers! Visit lawmakers in their local offices to advocate for your campus.
Ensuring a fair, quality teacher evaluation system
NYSUT is committed to a fair, objective and transparent teacher evaluation process that places the practitioner at the center of evaluation in advancing the growth of individual teachers and our profession as a whole.
After two years of work by NYSUT and six Innovation Initiative labor-management school district teams, NYSUT has unveiled the Teacher Evaluation and Development system (TED), which makes teachers full partners in the process and shifts the focus to instruction and not just test scores. About 50 districts have selected TED's teacher practice rubric, and NYSUT's Education & Learning Trust is providing the professional development for evaluators and educators to make the shift in a focused and meaningful manner.
NYSUT will continue to legally challenge SED's effort to allow school districts to base up to 40 percent of annual teacher evaluations on state standardized test scores. SED is appealing a state Supreme Court ruling that found portions of the department regulations were contrary to the original law.
YOU CAN TAKE ACTION! Using collective bargaining as a tool, local unions have the ability to design 80 percent of the evaluation to meet the unique needs of our members. Regional offices and labor relations specialists are ready to support this process. Work with your local in shaping your district's evaluation process which, thanks to NYSUT advocacy, is largely subject to collective bargaining. Become familiar with the TED system — www.nysut.org/TED — and encourage your district to consider using it.
Fixing ESEA so it strengthens services for students in need
As the President and Congress continue to debate the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NYSUT will continue pressing for much-needed changes in the law, proper implementation and necessary funding. The union is working closely with its national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, to get rid of provisions that set unrealistic benchmarks and over rely on standardized testing.
In the meantime, NYSUT will closely monitor SED's filing for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. The waiver would free New York from various Bush-era No Child Left Behind provisions, including the requirement that all students meet proficiency in the 2013-14 school year. The waiver would also stop the rapid increase in the number of schools and districts named to the Schools in Need of Improvement List. The state last month added 847 schools and 89 districts, bringing the total to 1,325 schools and 123 districts on the list. If New York's waiver application is approved, the state would implement its own system of support and intervention for schools.
YOU CAN TAKE ACTION! Let our congressional representatives know how important this issue is to our schools.
Implementing common core standards the right way
The Regents approved the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards last year, joining all but two states in the nation. NYSUT supports the common core standards because they are deeper, clearer and, if implemented appropriately, can improve student learning.
This school year is supposed to be a transitional year, with districts providing support and professional development on how to incorporate the new standards into instruction. In too many districts this is not happening. (See story on Page 23.) Once again, SED is rushing the transition and not getting the sequence right. SED plans to start new assessments on the common core standards in 2012-13, before all the curriculum modules are ready.
NYSUT will continue advocating for a meaningful transition period, including quality professional development, adequate time and collaborative teams working on capacity-building.
YOU CAN TAKE ACTION! Find out what your district is doing to realign instruction. Familiarize yourself with the 12 major shifts in instruction and exemplar lesson plans by checking SED's new Web page, http://www.engageny.org/. To learn more about the transistion, take advantage of professional development offered by the union's Education & Learning Trust — www.nysut.org/ELT — and the state's teacher center network.
Gov. Cuomo talked of creating yet another pension tier — Tier 6 — just months after the state created Tier 5. Approved in 2010, Tier 5 will save taxpayers at least $35 billion over the next 30 years. NYSUT will resist the creation of a new tier that would discourage people from entering public service and will defend pensions from unfair attacks. The union is working with the state AFL-CIO on an information campaign to get out the facts about public employee pensions.
"It's far too easy for people to forget that throughout this financial crisis public service workers and their unions negotiated new contracts with wage freezes and a number of wage and benefit reductions, saving millions in tax dollars or saving programs from even deeper cuts," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said. "We will remind them of all the facts." The union's website — http://www.nysut.org/ — will feature more information on this campaign in the event lawmakers go after public employee pensions.
YOU CAN TAKE ACTION! Tell your lawmakers — and anyone who asks — that public employee pensions are a good value. The benefits, in the long run, give people retirement security and help them remain active contributors to local economies. Pensions also help recruit and retain public servants. When you see misinformation in your local newspaper, don't hesitate to set the record straight.
Push for health care funding
At the statewide level, health care professionals welcomed some budget restorations to the more than $2 billion cut from the budget this year. However, advocates see a larger fight looming.
Union leaders are keeping watch on Washington, D.C., where the bipartisan "Super Committee" failed to cut the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion, thereby triggering dire consequences for health care that could be disastrous for our retirees and other members who rely on the federal health insurance program. The biggest threat is a 2 percent cut in Medicare payments that could begin in 2013. A more immediate concern is a 30 percent cut in doctor's payments set to start at the end of this year when one Medicare payment formulate, known as sustainable growth rate, expires. These cuts could severely limit our members' access to care.
NYSUT and its national affiliates are working with lawmakers to develop short- and long-term solutions.
YOU CAN TAKE ACTION! Look for ways to voice your concerns. Contact your state and federal lawmakers and let them know they must preserve health care. Letters to the editor can help, too.