December 2013/January 2014
December 18, 2013

It's time for lawmakers to fund what's needed

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
legislative action
Caption: Left: UUP President Fred Kowal, left, at a rally in support of SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Right: NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, center, addresses the union's priorities with state Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, and Assemblyman Steven Otis, D-Rye, during a Day of Action event in Yonkers. Photo by Maria R. Bastone.

The Legislature and the governor have put New Yorkers on a starvation diet. Providing fair and equitable funding for public education and health care is impossible when resources and revenues are capped every way you turn. Like starving yourself, it doesn't make sense, and lawmakers must stop the madness. NYSUT is strongly advocating for the state to provide the necessary resources and funding to improve access and supports for quality higher education, and to fully invest in K-12, universal pre-K programs, health care and support services for families.

"Cuts to state aid, combined with the suffocating, undemocratic tax cap, have jettisoned jobs and eroded access to programs and services New Yorkers need and deserve," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "The Legislature must do better."

Here's a look at the union's agenda on funding issues for the upcoming legislative session:

Pre-K

NYSUT is going full-bore for full-day prekindergarten and kindergarten.

We are fighting for early childhood programs, including Head Start, that build the foundation for lifetime success, especially for our most vulnerable children. Up to 60 percent of low-income children ages 3 to 4 are not enrolled in preschool, according to a new report.

The independent National Bureau of Economic Research reports that lower income children who attend pre-k perform better right through 8th grade. NYSUT is fighting any plans to shift preschool special ed costs from the state to districts at a time when they can least afford it. This would have an especially negative impact on small and rural districts.

K-12

NYSUT is pressing lawmakers to commit to a $1.9 billion increase in funding for New York's public schools. The hike would help narrow the achievement gap between students in high- and low-needs districts. The increase also would enable the state to establish community schools, provide universal pre-K for all 4-year-olds, and restore vital academic and extracurricular programs.

Last year's school aid fell far short of what is needed to restore cuts from previous years. In combination with the unfair tax cap (see story on page 9) that paralyzes districts attempting to make up lost state aid with local revenue, the level of funding caused class sizes to balloon, and decimated course offerings, library services, and after-school programs, particularly music, art and physical education. It curtailed academic supports for at-risk children and eliminated counseling services.

NYSUT is pushing the state to follow its own Foundation Formula to target aid to high-needs districts. The system was designed to provide stable and predictable state funding for schools based on the cost of providing a sound, basic education and adjusted for the extra costs of educating high-needs students, regional cost differences and the differences in local wealth.

Higher Ed

NYSUT, its higher education afffiliates and coalition partners will continue to defend against the seige on SUNY's Downstate Medical Center Hospital in Brooklyn. It is unacceptable to consider closing or privatizing the facility that serves a huge, lower income inner-city population. It also employs thousands of union members, including many in United University Professions, NYSUT's affiliate on SUNY campuses.

Public higher education funding priorities will focus on securing adequate state money for operating costs. NYSUT is making the case that student tuition should go toward education and services for students. Priorities should focus on more full-time faculty, reduced class size and more sections offered in major courses to help students graduate in four years. NYSUT also supports an increase in community college base aid and the establishment of a $1 billion Public Higher Education Endowment fund.

Libraries

NYSUT is pressing to bring public library funding into the 21st century. Between 2008 and 2012, library funding went down more than 20 percent, while library usage increased by 11 percent.

The level of funding for library services throughout the state increased slightly last year for the first time in nearly two decades, but it was incremental and still below 2008 levels. No other state-funded service serves so many people for so few dollars. Library aid amounts to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the state budget, and yet the libraries serve more than 12 million people of all ages and backgrounds, at every phase of their learning development.

Libraries are essential to our communities, our schools and our college campuses. It's time to fund them appropriately.

Health Care

NYSUT is fighting again this year to stop any cuts to the Medicaid program, which also would mean an equal loss of matching federal funds. Any cuts would decrease revenue to hospitals, home care providers and nursing homes. The consequence would be massive layoffs; elimination and sacrifice of high- quality services; and, most likely, more facility closures. Think about the threats to Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, for example. In addition to the job losses, such cuts would be devastating to New York state citizens, who rely on community facilities for their health care services.

NYSUT also supports a bill that would establish the Empire State Professional Nursing Scholarship Program to provide financial support to applicants who agree to deliver nursing care in a specialty practice, setting or region of the state having a shortage of nurses.

853, Special Act Schools

Special Act Schools, 853 Schools, 4410 programs and non-profit human service organizations have not received a cost-of-living adjustment in funding since 2008. The underfunding is having a significant impact on their ability to provide the services students and clients need and deserve. NYSUT is seeking legislation to provide a positive growth factor to allow funding to keep pace with inflation so these institutions can best serve those who need their help.

Special Act, 853 and 4410 schools provide the specialized educational needs of students with severe learning, emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities.

NYSUT also is seeking legislation to establish a revolving loan fund. The short-term loan fund would authorize the state comptroller to provide special education loans to certain Special Act school districts or approved special education providers.

Non-profits

The work of NYSUT's growing ranks in non-profit agencies is uniquely challenging.

Many of these hard-working professionals have two jobs, earn relatively low wages and use food stamps to get by. They toil in the shadow of the working poor, but increased union density in the non-profit sector is improving wages and working conditions. NYSUT's entire legislative agenda supports the issues that affect these employees and the agencies where they work: the right to a living wage; organizing rights; and the need for resources for essential support services.

These non-governmental agencies need adequate funding to provide vital human services and to support the workers who deliver them.