"Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world ... would do this, it would change the earth." — William Faulkner
I write this column just a couple of weeks before heading to Washington, D.C., for NYSUT's annual Representative Assembly. The theme for this year's RA is one simple, yet powerful, word: Voice.
Given who we are and what we do, there could be no more appropriate word to use as a backdrop for the work of our largest policymaking body, as delegates debate and map out NYSUT's priorities and strategies to ensure your voice is heard.
Of course, NYSUT members used their collective voice last fall when we endorsed and elected candidates who promised to support the issues important to us as unionists and as professionals. They heard that voice again throughout the current state budget negotiations as thousands of volunteers sent letters and faxes, attended marches and rallies or knocked on legislators' doors here in Albany and in their home districts, advocating for funding for their professions and the New Yorkers they serve every day.
As we view the budget details being finalized as I write this column, it appears that many, but clearly not all, lawmakers are hearing our voice. The spending plan is certainly a step in the right direction, with some painful cuts mitigated and initial investment in areas we know to be vital if our state is to move forward. Yet, it still misses the mark in some essential areas. While NYSUT's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the horrific property tax cap works its way through the courts, a legislative fix would provide immediate and much-needed relief. The NYSUT voice will continue to be raised in the halls of the Capitol until the legislative session ends in late June.
Each of our constituency groups still suffers from hardships imposed over the past several sessions that must be addressed. Our members in education, health care and service to the public must be heard. In other words, we're not done yet.
Meanwhile, those lawmakers who choose to ignore our voice will unquestionably hear it again at the ballot box.
The NYSUT voice is most certainly being raised — and heard — on the issue of obsessive standardized testing and the state's nonsensical rush to implement tests on the brand new Common Core standards. Thousands of you have written detailed, poignant letters to Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents expressing your concerns. These letters — shared through NYSUT's online "Tell It Like It Is" letter-writing campaign — detail the ways in which the inappropriate use of standardized testing negatively affects how teachers teach and students learn. The commissioner and Regents are hearing your voice, yet one has to seriously question if they are listening.
Vice President Maria Neira and I have embarked on a statewide listening tour so NYSUT members can share their personal perspective about life in the classroom in 2013. We've completed five of these town-hall-style events, with more scheduled for this month. The feedback we have received has been extremely useful and relevant as our Board of Directors shape both policy and strategy going forward.
In addition to our members' voices, we also want to hear what others have to say about the state of education in New York. To that end, we have expanded "Tell It Like It Is" to engage parents and interested community members through an online petition drive (www.nysut.org/testing) and advertising campaign. Both the petition site and ads provide information about the impact of high-stakes testing and explain to parents and the wider community that, as educators, we support high standards and accountability. But, like parents, we insist that it be done right.
Yes, heading into our convention, I look forward to hearing the many voices of your representatives as we discuss these and other critical issues. And I look forward to leaving Washington with a single, unified union voice that politicians, pundits and the public will hear loud and clear. NYSUT is speaking up and speaking out — with one voice!