ALBANY, N.Y. August 11, 2008 - New York State United Teachers today applauded gains in the high school graduation rate, saying increases in state and local funding are helping to close the achievement gap. However, the 600,000-member union warned a proposed property tax cap would jeopardize programs that many students need to graduate high school.
"More students, especially those in New York City and other large urban school districts, are graduating from high school. That's excellent news," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Ironically, success at closing the achievement gap is threatened by an ill-conceived tax cap, which offers only the illusion of relief for taxpayers but real pain for children and their schools."
Iannuzzi said the proposed tax cap would hurt efforts by low-wealth school districts to continue closing the achievement gap because their ability to raise local revenue to support education would be arbitrarily limited. These districts would be overly reliant on state aid at a time when Gov. Paterson is warning of deep cuts to the state budget.
"Equity is a direct casualty of a tax cap," Iannuzzi said. "Poor districts will simply not have the resources to invest in their schools and will have little chance of over-riding the Albany-imposed cap – something more affluent communities will do easily and often. A tax cap is simply a gimmick and a way for some politicians to balance their election-year needs on the backs of children and public schools."
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira noted New York City, Yonkers, Syracuse and Rochester showed promising gains, and – while hopeful – she said more work remains to be done. "Teachers, parents and students are working hard and the higher graduation rates show it," she said. "Many students are now taking five to six years to graduate, and that kind of persistence and dedication should be rewarded with a continued investment in programs to help them continue their studies."
She said more funding is needed to help English Language Learners who, while making progress, continue to struggle and drop out of school. "We know that many students new to our country need additional resources, and when we provide additional support, they graduate and contribute to the success of our country," Neira said.
Neira noted a high school diploma is not enough to guarantee success in today's competitive job market. "Rather than limiting students futures with an arbitrary and destructive tax cap, we should continue to invest in programs to help every student graduate high school."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents some 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges, State University of New York and City University of New York, and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.