March 03, 2014

Educators to press for greater investment in pro-education agenda

Source: NYSUT Media Relations

ALBANY, N.Y. March 3, 2014 - Hundreds of rank-and-file educators will fill the hallways of the Capitol Tuesday to press state legislators to dramatically boost the state's investment in public schools and colleges, reject tax giveaways to big banks and the wealthy and approve a moratorium on the high-stakes consequences for students and teachers from state standardized testing.

More than 500 members participating in New York State United Teachers' grassroots lobbying day will also urge their hometown senators and Assembly members to increase funding for early childhood education and community schools programs, while investing more in SUNY, CUNY and community colleges to ensure the state's public higher education institutions remain strong for generations to come.

Educators will arrive on busses at the Empire State Plaza's Madison Avenue entrance beginning at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, March 4, for meetings with state legislators. Afterwards, they will attend a debriefing session starting at noon at The Desmond, 660 Albany-Shaker Road.

The 600,000-member union's grassroots activists, representing public schools and colleges from across the state, will detail for their lawmakers how budget cuts triggered by the Great Recession have impacted students. Activists will press lawmakers for a $1.9 billion school aid increase, while noting that, according to the Educational Conference Board, an additional $1.5 billion is needed just for school districts to maintain current programs and staff.

"Investing dramatically more in public schools - and doing so while correcting rampant inequality in how New York funds education - must be a top priority," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi.

With state testing to begin next month, Iannuzzi said the Legislature must move swiftly to address the Regents' and State Education Department's failure to implement the Common Core standards properly. NYSUT is calling for immediate action on a package of bills that includes a rollback in standardized testing and a three-year delay in high-stakes consequences from state testing to give the Regents and SED time to make major course corrections.

"The pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. Parents and educators are united in demanding that the state's focus going forward be on teaching and learning, and meeting students' needs; not testing, testing and more testing," Iannuzzi said. The Regents approved some adjustments, but it will take several years for all the needed changes to be implemented properly. "Teachers will continue to be evaluated as these course corrections are made, but those evaluations should not be tied to discredited test scores and a curriculum that has not been fully and properly introduced," he said.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said while legislators increased funding last year, the majority of school districts are operating below 2009-10 funding levels. He said rank-and-file activists would advocate for a $1.9 billion increase and universal full-day pre-kindergarten programs, while strongly opposing proposals to raise the estate tax exemption, provide tax breaks to the banking industry and offer small property tax rebates where districts hold taxes below the 1.46 percent cap.

"Programs and services have been slashed to the bone. Nearly 70 percent of school districts are operating with less state aid than five years ago and under the constraints of an onerous tax cap. The more than $2 billion in tax cuts and freezes that mostly benefit the wealthy would be better spent filling the large gaps which currently exist in the funding of our public schools and higher education institutions," Pallotta said. "School districts need a massive infusion of state aid to survive the ‘perfect storm' of aid cuts, gap elimination adjustments, formula aid freezes and policies like the tax cap that have combined to devastate programs and services New York students need."

In higher education, Pallotta said the union's grassroots lobbyists would strongly encourage lawmakers to back the Public Higher Education Quality Initiative, which includes additional state funding to protect quality and access at SUNY, CUNY and community colleges as well as creation of a dedicated endowment to rebuild the ranks of full-time faculty at SUNY and CUNY.

"With funding to SUNY and CUNY essentially flat for more than five years, it's time for the Legislature to recognize the importance of investing in our public colleges and universities and creating an endowment to ensure that SUNY and CUNY remain strong education and economic engines for the generations to come," Pallotta said.

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.

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