January 21, 2014

NYSUT: Amid positives, state aid proposal woefully inadequate

Source:  NYSUT Media Relations

ALBANY, N.Y. January 21, 2014 ' New York State United Teachers said today the Executive Budget plan contains several promising education initiatives that support greater student learning but panned the proposed $608 million school aid formula increase as "woefully inadequate to meet the needs of New York's schoolchildren.

NYSUT said a new panel to study the State Education Department's failed implementation of the Common Core represents an "opportunity for the governor to address the state's over-reliance on standardized testing and obvious need for major course corrections, including a moratorium to give SED time to get it right." The union criticized the proposed continued flat funding levels for SUNY, CUNY and community colleges, saying, "The state must make sustained investments in its public higher education systems to protect the high quality of its institutions and ensure its students are ready to contribute to the state's economy in the years to come."

On the governor's pre-K-12 education proposals, NYSUT said it sees promise in a long-term investment in statewide full-day pre-kindergarten and additional funding for after-school programs, but noted details must still be ironed out. In addition, NYSUT noted many school districts still can't afford full-day kindergarten and are reeling from years of devastating budget cuts and the horrific effects of a property tax cap. The Regents had called for a $1.3 billion funding increase for 2014-15 while the Educational Conference Board, a coalition of statewide education groups, last week said a $1.5 billion increase was needed merely to maintain current programs and services. NYSUT, the Alliance for Quality Education and more than 80 Assembly members, among others, have endorsed a $1.9 billion state aid increase as necessary to get public education funding back on track.

NYSUT pointed out that 70 percent of the state's school districts are operating with less state aid than in 2008-09, and that total formula aid ' heading into today's Executive Budget proposal ' is nearly $300 million less than five years ago.

"There is no question this proposal is woefully inadequate to meet the needs of New York's schoolchildren," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Ending the achievement gap and ensuring that all children, especially those who are most vulnerable, have an equal opportunity to receive a high-quality education must be the state's top priority ' not tax cuts that result in public schools getting far less in state aid than what's required. And, while we are gratified by the Executive Budget's focus on early childhood education, a much greater investment must be made ' and made much sooner ' to help prevent achievement gaps from opening in the first place."

Iannuzzi also hammered a proposal to freeze the property tax bills of homeowners in districts where school boards stayed within the tax cap, which this year is set at 1.46 percent. "This is nothing less than a perverse incentive for school districts to deny their community's children the programs and services they need," Iannuzzi said. In addition, Iannuzzi raised serious concerns about a proposed Teacher Excellence Fund which, he said, "could prove to be no more than a merit pay scheme."

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said NYSUT recognizes the Executive Budget is a starting point for negotiations. "It does not make enough headway toward the investments that are needed to help school districts recover from years of devastating and painful cuts. Districts have already slashed budgets to the bone and, with their ability to raise funds locally severely hamstrung, are counting on the state to use its budget surplus to re-invest in its public schools and colleges."

He questioned a proposed Teacher Excellence Fund. "Any system that creates a competitive, rather than collaborative school climate ' where students are viewed as part of the salary equation rather than children who deserve the best possible education ' raises real concerns," Pallotta said. "If what we're talking about is a career ladder program that supplies extra pay for other assignments, such as mentoring newer educators, earning advanced degrees or working in hard-to-staff schools, this is a program that should be negotiated with teachers through local collective bargaining."

Pallotta noted legislators from both sides of the aisle and both legislative chambers have been very vocal in support of reversing years of cuts and dramatically increasing education aid in next year's state budget. "We look forward to working with legislators and the executive chamber on a final budget which meets the needs of students in pre-kindergarten all the way through to post-graduate study," he said.

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members. Members are pre-K-12 teachers; school-related professionals; higher education faculty; other professionals in education, human services and health care; and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.