February 27, 2015

Higher ed advocates press lawmakers for funding

Author: Darryl McGrath
higher education
Caption: NYSUT leaders led a day of meetings Wednesday with ranking lawmakers, including newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (right), a graduate of SUNY's Stony Brook University and CUNY's Baruch College who is widely considered a friend to public higher education. Photo by Marty Kerins.
NYSUT higher education leaders say they will need all the help they can get to combat an Executive Budget that proposes flat funding to SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges; and ties critical funding for several areas of those systems to passage of the exact budget the governor has proposed it.

NYSUT's higher education affiliates are asking state lawmakers to stop the budget from holding higher education funding hostage.

Some 400 NYSUT members and students told lawmakers they need to stand up to Gov. Cuomo's devastating budget propoals during the annual Higher Education Advocacy Day Feb. 27 at the Capitol. They explained, over and over to lawmakers, why the governor's plan to withhold higher education funding unless he gets his way is just plain wrong.

"I sat in the State of the State address and heard the governor talk about the 'State of Opportunity.' Opportunity for who? The rich? "NYSUT President Karen Magee said to loud applause as she spoke to NYSUT higher education members as they prepared for the advocacy day.

NYSUT leaders led a day of meetings Wednesday with ranking lawmakers, including newly elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a graduate of SUNY's Stony Brook University and CUNY's Baruch College who is widely considered a friend to public higher education.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta told higher education members before their own meetings with lawmakers on Thursday that this first meeting with Heastie was "very, very impressive."

NYSUT higher education leaders say they will need all the help they can get to combat an Executive Budget that proposes flat funding to SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges; and ties critical funding for several areas of those systems to passage of the exact budget the governor has proposed.

"At some point, the governor must wake up and realize the damage he is doing to this state," said Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions at SUNY.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, described this year's advocacy as "a struggle against austerity … a battle against racism and a battle against the deprivation of the middle class."

Kevin Peterman, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and a NYSUT Board member for community college issues, said hundreds of community college students around the state are mobilizing, signing petitions to lawmakers and asking why the state and their local county sponsors have, for years, neglected to fulfill their legal obligation. Students are supposed to provide 30 percent of community college funding through tuition and fees, yet at many campuses, state and county funding has steadily declined and students are providing 50 percent or more of the operating budget.

"We have over 200,000 community college students — talk about a coalition," Peterman said. "Last year, we had 30 students from Suffolk come up; this year, we have three buses."

Higher education members found a receptive audience throughout the Legislative Office Building. Sen. Kenneth LaValle, a Long Island Republican and member of the Senate Education Committee, is a longtime supporter of public education. He was so eager to hear what a delegation from UUP had to say he invited newly elected Membership Development Officer Arty Shertzer to talk with him about the union's concerns in the only time LaValle had on a day packed with budget discussions — during a walk from his office to the elevator.

Steve London, PSC first vice president, said a delegation from that union had a similarly good reception in a meeting with Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat from the 28th District who serves on the Senate Finance and Higher Education committees.

"The senator is a great friend; she knows our issues well," London said.

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) brought more than 200 students to the advocacy day, which included a news conference with higher education leaders and remarks to students by Bowen and UUP Secretary Eileen Landy. Students said their top issues include restoration of a recommended $1.3 million cut to the Education Opportunity Program (EOP) for low-income SUNY students, and passage of the New York DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented college students who came to the United States as children to qualify for state financial aid programs.

For the most part, students went into their appointments with lawmakers on their own, in small groups. Several found the experience empowering, including Tanya Thompson, a journalism student at SUNY Purchase. In a meeting with Chris Bresnan, chief of staff to Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski of the 94th District, she pressed him to be specific about the ways the assemblyman would support public higher education.

She described the experience as "good practice" for her profession, and she got the answer she wanted when Bresnan assured her that "the assemblyman has always been a big supporter of TAP [the Tuition Assistance Program] and EOP. You have our support."

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