July 2014
July 03, 2014

Union scores legislative victories

Author: By Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
Anne Goldman, United Federation of Teachers vice president for non-DOE members and a NYSUT Board member, and UFT members Howard Sandau and Cora Shillingford, both nurses, lobby legislators during the Health Care Lobby Day at the Capitol this spring. Photos by El-Wise Noisette.
Caption: From left: Anne Goldman, United Federation of Teachers vice president for non-DOE members and a NYSUT Board member, and UFT members Howard Sandau and Cora Shillingford, both nurses, lobby legislators during the Health Care Lobby Day at the Capitol this spring. Photos by El-Wise Noisette.

NYSUT gained hard-earned legislation, beginning with the $1.1 billion increase in aid to education in the 2014-15 budget, that will improve the working lives of members:

Students with special needs

Union advocacy secured a much-needed increase in tuition rate reimbursements for schools that serve students with special needs. Still, NYSUT leaders stress more must be done after years of flat funding.

The one-year, 3.8 percent reimbursement rate increase is for 853 Schools and Special Act school districts. Special Act school districts partner with child care institutions to educate students with special physical, emotional or mental health needs. The 853 Schools are operated by private agencies that provide residential or day programs for students with disabilities.

"We must secure long-term solutions. More resources are necessary to support these unique schools and the quality educators who provide essential special education services," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.

Safe patient handling

The Safe Patient Handling Act, passed as part of the state budget, was a clear victory for union health care professionals who advocated for the law over the last decade. It provides guidelines for lifting, moving and repositioning patients safely. The law also calls for creation of a statewide workgroup by Jan. 1, 2015, and for each health care facility to have a policy to ensure safe patient handling in place by Jan. 1, 2017. In another health care win, NYSUT activists gained a crucial law on student self-medication.

edTPA safety net

On the eve of legislative hearings on the matter, the Board of Regents avoided lawmakers' intervention and agreed to remove the edTPA, the controversial student teaching assessment, as a requirement for certification until June 30, 2015.

Future teachers are still required to take edTPA, but if they fail it during this safety net period they are not required to retake it. Instead, they can attain initial certification by passing the longtime certification test known as the Assessment of Teaching Skills — Written.

BOCES out-of-state contracts

The legislation enables BOCES districts to enter into contracts with out-of-state school districts to maintain programs and services. At the same time, they will save money for the state and property taxpayers.

Credit for all military service

After more than a decade of advocacy, public employees who served in the military, regardless of when their service took place, will have the opportunity to purchase retirement service credit prior to their retirement. In the past, the credit applied only to veterans of Vietnam-era and prior combat. The credit now applies to all veterans, including those of more current conflicts, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Health care for adjuncts

The Professional Staff Congress, with NYSUT support, gained continuance of health care coverage for PSC/CUNY part-time and contingent members in New York City's Health Insurance Program.

Also in higher education, NYSUT secured additional capital funding of $49 million for SUNY and $67 million for CUNY.

Reducing risk in investments

The union achieved changes to the retirement and Social Security law to increase the public pension system's ability to diversify investments. This will help mitigate market volatility and allow greater investment returns.

Rochester building aid

This authorizes Phase 2 of a school modernization program for the city. It allows for up to $435 million to reconstruct up to 26 buildings.

Invisible victories

NYSUT helped stop many damaging bills. Primary among them was the back-door voucher bill that would have benefited the state's wealthiest; a measure to move the school board election date in Buffalo from May to November; a proposal to allow charter schools to operate multiple sites; and a bill that would impose a costly mandate to New York City public schools concerning special education placements.

Going forward

Pallotta said NYSUT will continue to strongly advocate for increased funding for public schools, public higher education and SUNY hospitals. The union will fight to address myriad concerns with testing and the appropriate implementation of the Common Core, and continue to press for changes to the undemocratic tax cap that is having a devastating impact on our school districts, students and members.