"All I can say is: What a difference a year makes!" NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta exclaimed to the cheers of RA delegates.
NYSUT's scorecard is self evident: record-breaking turnout at rallies and educational events; coalition building; shutting down Campbell Brown by air, land and water; and taking a stand for education at the State Fair. Online activism at NYSUT's Member Action Center generated 663,694 faxes — an increase of 60 percent. More than 60,000 people a week respond to requests from the MAC to take action.
"We've created a 'culture of activism,'" Pallotta said. "It's what we do. We're educators. We educate. Some might even say we taught some people a lesson."
Most notable is the four-year moratorium on using state test scores to evaluate teachers; stopping what Pallotta called "a potentially treacherous Education Tax Credit bill that is really a voucher program in disguise;" gaining $1.5 billion in school aid, and seeing Betty Rosa elected chancellor of the Board of Regents.
"Betty is an educator, a fighter and she knows what is best for kids," Pallotta said.
NYSUT created more good news by preventing several destructive proposals: Gap Elimination Adjustment is gone, and a devastating cost shift for CUNY was stopped with the "relentless activism of PSC members," Pallotta said. Lawmakers also rejected tuition increases for SUNY and CUNY students and performance-based funding for campuses. The union's activism also stopped a plan to cut state reimbursement for Medicare premiums.
On the plus side, community colleges received an increase of $100 per full-time-equivalent over last year. SUNY received $15 million for clean energy programs and funding for opportunity programs and the teaching hospitals was restored.
NYSUT is celebrating what Pallotta calls "the strongest paid family leave bill in the country." The state Legislature passed 12 weeks of paid family leave that ensures "working families have access to this essential and long-overdue benefit."
In the same category of "long overdue:" the approval of an increase in the state mimimum wage to $15 an hour, thanks to the strong advocates in the Fight for $15 campaign. "This will make a difference for tens of thousands of NYSUT members," Pallotta said.
He stressed the need for members to vote in national and local elections, school board elections and school budget votes. The November elections, he said, are also critical to the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, and will likely determine the balance of power in the New York State Senate.
Next year, voters will be asked whether to hold a state Constitutional Convention, and NYSUT's position is clear: A convention poses great danger to retirement security, collective bargaining rights and access to a quality public education for all New York State students, among other rights.
This year, NYSUT members are being asked to make a Pledge to Vote. "We have the people, and it is time we fully realize the promise that our democracy offers us — the people have the power," Pallotta said.