February 2013
January 28, 2013

Budget a starting point for what students need

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Educators and students wind their way through downtown Olean recently to protest cutbacks to schools. Photo by Dennis Stierer.

It's time to fund education like the future depends on it.

That's the message NYSUT activists will bring to their lawmakers this month when they advocate for a strong state budget that supports school districts in critical need of resources.

The governor's proposed plan "starts what can be a positive budget for New York's schoolchildren," NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said. "It takes many steps in the right direction, but we still need to address years of inequality and the state's failure to meet its legal obligations" to provide for a sound, basic education.

The executive budget proposes an $889 million, or 4.4 percent, total increase for schools, although not all districts would benefit from that rate. It would require districts to have a fully implemented teacher evaluation system by Sept. 1 to receive increases in state aid. NYSUT does not support linking APPR to state aid increases.

The budget also proposes new competitive grant programs:

  • $50 million to reward districts for academic performance and management efficiency;
  • $25 million for full-day pre-kindergarten in qualifying low-income districts;
  • $20 million for schools that opt to extend the school day or year;
  • $15 million for a community schools initiative where students could receive health care and other services;
  • $11 million, in the form of $15,000 annual stipends, to reward the most effective teachers. This program would start with math and science teachers; and
  • $4 million for early college high school programs.

Notable among the proposed programs is the community schools initiative and full-day pre-K, which NYSUT has long advocated for and most recently proposed at the New NY Education Reform Commission hearings.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta noted concerns about forcing districts to compete for state grants to fund schools. "All students need reasonable class sizes. They need Advanced Placement, arts and music programs and athletics and extra-curricular activities," he said.

The proposed budget would continue $2 million for the teacher-mentor intern program and $368,000 to help teachers achieve National Board Certification, but would eliminate funding for the 128 teacher centers across the state. The centers provide professional learning, workshops on new practices and standards, and a range of other resources for classroom instructors.

"We will press for restorations," Pallotta said.

Union leaders pledged to work in collaboration with the governor and lawmakers to build on the positive elements in the proposed budget and to restore funds to general education aid.

"Community schools and full-day pre-kindergarten for our most at-risk students are promising initiatives that will require a much greater investment of state resources," Iannuzzi said. Also, he said a high quality "bar exam" for would-be teachers, if done right, would take "steps toward increasing the stature of the teaching profession."