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our voice our values our union
zeo tavarez
Feb 15

Albany teacher travels to El Paso for 'Teach-In for Freedom'

For Zeovadis Tavarez-Polanco, a fifth-grade bilingual teacher in Albany, speaking out for refugee and immigrant children is a human rights issue — not a political one.

Tavarez-Polanco, a member of Albany Public School TA, will be joining teachers from across the country this weekend for a "Teach-In for Freedom" in El Paso. The Teachers Against Child Detention group’s aim is to draw attention to the plight of thousands of migrant children being held in detention by the U.S. government and to call for their release.

“The emotional and mental damage for these children is irreparable. It’s nothing short of child abuse,” Tavarez-Polanco said. “They’re being mistreated and traumatized and they did absolutely nothing wrong to deserve this. It’s criminal.”

Teachers Against Child Detention is an alliance of teachers and other advocates led by Mandy Manning, the National Teacher of the Year, who teaches newly arrived refugee and immigrant students in Washington state.

The teach-in will feature 10-minute mini lessons and talks by educators from every state and from Juarez, Mexico. Participants will learn about history of immigration to the U.S.; how to teach about immigration to students and communities; and the ill effects of detention on children and families. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will also speak at the protest.

The Sunday event will start at 9 a.m. El Paso time and runs until 7 p.m. at San Jacinto Plaza, which is only a few miles from the border. It will be broadcast on Facebook.

TACD is calling for President Trump and the U.S. Congress to immediately and responsibly release all immigrant children held in federal custody for more than 20 days in violation of the Flores consent decree and close all detention centers housing immigrant children. TACD’s goals are to help bring an end to the child detention centers, the separation of families and changing the conversation around immigration in the U.S.

The Trump administration began enforcing a “zero- tolerance” immigration policy earlier last year, separating migrant children from their parents when they tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and placing thousands of children in federal detention centers. The administration reversed the policy in June after public outcry and a federal judge ordered all separated children to be reunited with a parent. But the deadline for that order has long passed and many children still remain in federal custody.

Tavarez-Polanco called it unconscionable that the federal government did not keep better track of the children and their families. “When you’re pulling newborn babies from their mother, you should certainly have controls in place so you can reunite the children back with their families,” she said. “The organization and safety controls are more effective when you pick up your child at Chuck E. Cheese!”

AFT is sponsoring Tavarez-Polanco’s trip after NYSUT recommended her due to her personal journey, work and activism in defending the rights of immigrant students and their families. As a longtime teacher at Albany’s bilingual Delaware Community School, Tavarez-Polanco has many students whose families are new to the country. Aside from the support she provides every day as a fifth-grade teacher, Tavarez-Polanco has also served as a go-between for families in the community navigating medical and legal difficulties. She has also volunteered as a translator for detainees in the Albany County Jail.

For Tavarez-Polanco, the ongoing advocacy is personal. Both her mother and father came to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic and she knows well how hard it can be for English language learners to succeed.

“I saw first-hand the discrimination of being a Spanish-speaking youngster, but my mom just kept telling us to work hard and study,” said Tavarez-Polanco. She’s proud to say she and all five of her siblings became “ successful and productive” citizens. Tavarez-Polanco earned her bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Albany and decided to become a teacher after working as a teaching assistant in Albany schools.

“When I first heard what was happening to these children, I can’t describe the hurt that was in my heart,” Tavarez-Polanco said. “Their parents’ sin was just trying to get them a better life. How do you explain that to an 8-year old? Mommy came here looking for a better life and that’s why you haven’t seen me in three months. Or that’s why you’re sleeping on the floor in this detention center.”

Taverez-Polanco intends to keep speaking out until there are no more children being separated from their families, or placed in detention centers. “This never should have happened in the first place and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said. “Kids should never be political pawns.”

take a look at teaching
Feb 15

NYSUT to take part in caucus weekend panel on diversifying the teaching workforce

ALBANY, N.Y. Feb. 15, 2019 — New York State United Teachers will take part in a panel discussion about diversifying the teaching workforce as part of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus Weekend on Saturday, Feb. 16.

The panel — sponsored by Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman and titled “Seizing Opportunity to Diversify New York’s Teacher Workforce” — will focus on the programs and models designed to diversify this workforce and how New York can implement them statewide. The panelists are:

  • Jessica Elliot, a high school social studies teacher and member of the Syracuse Teachers Association and NYSUT
  • Sterling Roberson, vice president for Career & Technical Education high schools for the United Federation of Teachers and NYSUT member
  • Albany City School District Superintendent Kaweeda Adams
  • Richard Haynes, director of school support for the New York City Department of Education

The event will take place from 2 to 3:15 p.m. in Meeting Room 7 on the Empire State Plaza Concourse in Albany.

Hispanic/Latino and African American educators make up less than 16 percent of the teaching workforce statewide, while students from the same groups make up 43 percent of the student population. NYSUT has launched the Take a Look at Teaching Initiative to find ways to address this disparity and elevate the teaching profession as a whole.

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

it's what we do
Feb 14

With Collegiate Scholars of Tomorrow program, UUP member Christopher Ellis puts young students on the path to college

By day, Christopher Ellis works in a busy office building on a bustling block in downtown Albany, where he oversees adult learning centers for New York’s state and city colleges.

By night, by weekend, and by evasive minutes and hours here and there, he directs a new program — Collegiate Scholars of Tomorrow — that puts hope and college money into NY 529 College Savings Program bank accounts for third graders across the city.

special act schools
Feb 14

TAKE ACTION: Urge lawmakers to support Special Act Schools

Don't leave students with disabilities behind.

Many years of stagnant funding and increasing costs have endangered the future of Special Act schools, 853 Schools, 4201 Schools that serve the blind and deaf, and public 4410 Programs. In fact, several Special Act school districts have been forced to close and others continue to face serious financial challenges. Funding for these programs should be increased to support the actual needs of the students!

Take action now at the NYSUT Member Action Center to ask lawmakers to finally provide financial stability to the critical institutions that serve students with disabilities!

In providing a "free appropriate public education" to all students, New York invests in a diverse array of programs to serve the unique educational needs of the state's most vulnerable, traumatized, disabled and marginalized youth. These schools provide education and related services to school-age students who, for many reasons, are unable to be served by either the local public schools or BOCES. These schools are specifically designed to meet the intense needs of students placed by the juvenile justice, child welfare, mental health, developmental disabilities and special education systems.

However, the chronic underfunding of these programs has negatively impacted education and enrichment for the students that they serve.

Take action now at the NYSUT Member Action Center to ask lawmakers to finally provide financial stability to the critical institutions that serve students with disabilities!

These students and schools deserve educational funding parity with the school aid percentage increases provided to traditional public schools.

Take action now!

In solidarity,

Andrew Pallotta
NYSUT President

P.S.: Please take action now to support students with disabilities all across New York!

tax cap
Feb 13

NYSUT Explains: Why the tax cap is unfair, undemocratic and harmful to students

Legislation in New York seeks to make the state’s property tax cap permanent.

The state property tax cap would continue to be tied to the previous year’s average monthly Consumer Price Index, or 2 percent, whichever is LOWER.

This is an arbitrary and inadequate way to address school funding. It’s unfair to taxpayers, it’s undemocratic and it hurts students, especially in higher-need, lower-income districts.

Here’s why starting with how it affects students:


tax cap

It hurts students because school children are denied educational resources and opportunities based on the relative taxable wealth of their school districts. Poorer districts are unable to raise as much education funding as wealthier districts.


tax cap

The current law is undemocratic because it requires a supermajority on votes for school budgets seeking to increase the school funding tax levy by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Why should a minority of 40.1 percent of voters be able to overrule a majority of 59.9 percent? Democracy calls for one person, one vote, not minority rule.


tax cap

It’s unfair to taxpayers because it ties tax bills to property value, rather than the ability to pay. In other words, if your income drops for some reason beyond your control, your income tax liability reflects that. Your property tax bill, however, remains the same, despite the fact you can no longer afford it. Tying school funding to property taxes without including some consideration for income and ability to pay hurts property owners and does little to address overall school funding issues.  


tax cap

The better way to adequately fund public education is through a “circuit breaker” program, which would provide targeted tax relief based on one’s ability to pay. Circuit breaker programs kick in when too much of a taxpayer's income would be spent on property taxes. The circuit breaker reduces the overload.

Circuit breaker programs reduce the property tax burden only of low- and middle-income families so they're much less expensive for the state than across-the-board tax cuts.

Instead of making permanent a program that is unfair, undemocratic and hurtful to students, lawmakers must consider a plan that provides taxpayers relief when they need it and adequately funds education for all New York students.

higher education
Feb 13

Higher ed activists educate lawmakers

It was supposed to be a spectacle.

The snowstorm that swamped the northeast Tuesday precipitated prudence for the safety of students as organizers canceled buses that were to bring hundreds of undergrads from all over the state to the Capitol in Albany.

But the weather didn’t stop dozens of grassroots NYSUT activists who stalked the halls and offices of lawmakers on Higher Education Lobby Day. It was a day to educate elected officials about key issues in the state budget negotiations.

The state must enact a budget by April 1.

“We’re here to urge lawmakers to make dramatic investments at SUNY and CUNY,” said United University Professions President Fred Kowal. “Growing funding gaps, staff shortages and limited course availability are becoming more common.

“And, it’s crucial to restore the state subsidy to SUNY hospitals that care for hundreds of thousands of patients regardless of whether they can afford to pay,” he said.

“Higher ed has been deliberately underfunded for years,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress. “CUNY runs on student tuition increases and exploited adjunct faculty. This has got to be fixed.”

As NYSUT testified in recent budget hearings, increased state investment at four-year colleges would help stave off difficult decisions about programs and student services.

Community colleges also need significant investment to ensure the state is meeting its statutory obligation to pay 40 percent of operating costs for these campuses. The state’s support is about 25 percent now, and going lower every year.

“Community colleges need the funding they deserve and were promised in Education Law,” said Kevin Peterman, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College .

The volunteer lobbyists-for-a-day advocated for the state to close the Tuition Assistance Program gap. A TAP award covers a student’s tuition, although it does not match the full tuition bill. Campuses must eat the difference — the “TAP gap” —, which could total $150 million for CUNY and SUNY in 2019-20.

In a cordial conversation Tuesday, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta thanked Assembly Education Committee chair Deborah Glick, D–Manhattan, for recognizing the importance and the fiscal impact of this issue by introducing a bill (A.720) to require the state to reimburse campuses for the gap expense.

“It would go a long way to mitigate the current situation,” Pallotta said.

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