ALBANY, N.Y. April 16, 2009 - New York State United Teachers said today it intends to assign a "Math Review Sheet" as homework to any district that fails to follow directions for using federal stimulus funds to preserve jobs and improve student achievement.
The statewide union said local leaders are keeping close watch on budget preparations and reminding districts that they have until Thursday, April 23, to finalize budgets that comply with federal requirements for using stimulus funds. That means using funds as intended: to preserve jobs, continue academic progress and help grow the state's economy.
"The stimulus money allows us to keep teachers teaching, school staff working and students learning," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Our students have been reaping the benefits of New York's commitment to education and these funds must be used to maintain that progress."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin said the union will distribute a "Math Review Sheet" that instructs districts to "re-check your math" if they are targeting funds incorrectly.
"We tell our students to read the directions carefully, and we'll do the same with the administrations if we have to," Lubin said. "If districts fail to allocate the federal stimulus money as it's intended, they run the real risk of losing the funds and costing local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars."
A survey of NYSUT's 17 regional offices found "too many districts were planning to use stimulus money to lower taxes or to substitute for other funding, a move that could lead to deep cuts to staff and academic programs," Lubin said. The NYSUT survey estimates up to 5,000 school positions - outside of New York City - are slated for elimination.
Lubin added that the union's regional offices, working with local leaders in the districts, will continue to monitor the budgeting and expenditure of the federal money and to let the public know if it is being inappropriately used.
Signed into law by President Obama in February, the federal stimulus plan - known formally as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - was designed to help states and local school districts avoid layoffs and create jobs.
The first round of economic stimulus money - totaling $44 billion - was released by the Obama administration April 1, with $3 billion earmarked for New York state over the next two years.
The president has said the aim for nearly all the education money in the stimulus plan is to retain teachers, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he would penalize states that don't comply with the administration's guidelines by withholding future installment payments.
Duncan's New York counterpart, state Education Commissioner Richard Mills, is also stressing the federal aid must be used as it is intended.
"The law is very clear and specific. The funds must be used to protect jobs and advance student achievement," Mills said in a speech delivered April 3 at NYSUT's Representative Assembly in Buffalo.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer - who, with Ways and Means Chair Charles Rangel, was instrumental in ensuring New York's share of the stimulus funding - and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have also emphasized that the federal aid must be used by school districts to preserve jobs.
As taxpayers, teachers are sensitive to the concern shared by so many others over the burden created by escalating taxes. However, as Duncan has said, the best way to improve our schools and the quality of education is to keep teachers teaching and students learning - and the appropriate use of the federal stimulus aid will allow that to happen.
"Superintendents and school boards need to do the right thing and comply with what Washington intended," said Lubin. "President Obama and Secretary Duncan couldn't have made it any clearer: The federal stimulus money is to be used to save jobs and improve education - period. Using the money any other way is tantamount to denying our children the best opportunity for success."
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.