February Issue
January 23, 2015

Misinformed, misguided governor shows his true colors

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United

If you harbored any doubts whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo disrespects public education, you can set them adrift, light them on fire and push 'em out to sea. He's flying his true colors now.

Illustration by M. Sharer

State Budget 2015

Cuomo's executive budget proposal is an assault on public education and the teaching profession. It proposes a strings-attached increase of $1.1 billion for school aid, half of the amount recommended by the Regents.

His proposed increase is contingent upon lawmakers approving a vicious "reform" agenda that would gut tenure and collective bargaining, double down on high-stakes testing and shortchange public higher education. (See related story: "NYSUT blisters Cuomo's draconian anti-teacher agenda.").

It also would hold school aid hostage to his "reforms," including a harsh, simplistic and punitive new teacher evaluation system, a back-door voucher tax credit and a permanent tax cap. If legislators don't go along with his plans, he'll cut that increase by two-thirds. Perhaps the ugliest slap in the face to communities, educators, school boards, parents and students - whose worlds revolve around public education - is his petty extortion scheme to withhold proposed district-by-district aid data from local school districts until he gets his way in the Legislature. Districts are on strict timelines to prepare draft budgets, present them to voters and get them approved on May 19. They cannot even begin without those school-aid runs.

Gov. Cuomo knows this. He doesn't care.

Misinformed and misguided

"The governor is misinformed," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "New York has one of the strongest public education systems in the nation and a professional, highly dedicated teaching force. He should be celebrating that excellence. Instead, we get intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning. "Students, parents and teachers, who know better, aren't buying this agenda, which everyone knows is driven by the governor's billionaire hedge-fund friends," she said. NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, who leads the union's legislative and political department, said the governor is misguided and invited him to attend a series of community forums planned for the coming weeks.

"We want him to listen to the aspirations of students who want to excel but don't have art, music, foreign languages or guidance counselors," he said. "We want him to hear from parents who want a greater state and local investment in their public schools, so their sons and daughters can have a full range of services and aren't crammed in classes of 30 or 35 with outdated textbooks.

"And, we want him to listen to the experts - educators and administrators who love their jobs and are dedicated to their students, who know a greater focus on standardized testing is wrong and who know that 'opportunity' is just a word unless it's backed by enough funding that goes to the right places."

Recession era

Nearly 1 million New York schoolchildren - including more than a third of African-American and Latino students - live in poverty. The state's systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably - while giving all teachers the tools and support they need - is "the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug," Magee said.

Schools are repeatedly being asked to do more with less. Due to aid cuts since the recession hit, more than half - 51 percent - of the state's schools are receiving less state aid in the current year than they did in 2008-09. These gaps in state funding - and the tax cap and tax freeze - are the reason.

During this legislative session, NYSUT activists are advocating strongly and loudly for what students need:

  • equitable school aid so financially starved, high-needs districts receive the resources they need;
  • expansion of Career and Technical Education;
  • investments in the arts and other programs;
  • increased funding for BOCES and Special Act schools; and
  • increased funding for public higher education to relieve the burdens on students and their families.

NYSUT advocates also seek increases in health care spending so SUNY teaching hospitals can continue to provide quality medical services to their communities.

What students and educators don't need is an executive budget proposal that includes numerous onerous plans that must be stopped:

  • Empowering the state to take over "failing" schools, eliminating local control, tenure, seniority and collective bargaining agreements.
  • Creating a back-door voucher tax credit to benefit wealthy donors to private and charter schools, to the tune of $100 million per year.
  • Tying public higher ed funding to campus "performance" rather than enrollment.
  • Destroying teacher prep programs at SUNY and CUNY.
  • Allowing private equity firms to own and operate hospitals, which will set the stage for privatization of SUNY hospitals.
  • Eliminating the $14 million funding for teacher centers.
  • Making the tax cap permanent.

NYSUT and its coalition partners agree that New York state, with its improved fiscal condition, is in a position to help schools turn the corner financially. Statewide education organizations issued a report in January outlining the need for a $2 billion state education aid increase so schools can continue current services and make progress on critical new initiatives.

The Board of Regents proposed a $2.2 billion state aid increase. Even Chancellor Merryl Tisch, whose "reform" agenda is seriously problematic, insists this money is essential. Cuomo asked for half that.

It's simply not enough.

"Far too many school districts are still digging out from budget holes created during the recession," Pallotta said. "A greater commitment of school aid - more resources for vital initiatives such as community schools and for English language learners - is the way to ensure that every child is ready to learn at high levels, graduate and succeed in college or the workplace."