NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta didn't sing Monday night, but he referenced the jazz standard, "What a Difference a Day Makes."
"Let's think about what a difference a year makes," Pallotta told the couple hundred people gathered atop the Corning Tower in Albany for NYSUT's 2016 Legislative Reception.
"With your help and our friends in the Legislature, we've come a long way, and we thank you for that!" he said.
"A lot of folks have said, 'You can't move mountains,' " said state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, congratulating President Karen E. Magee, Pallotta and all the NYSUT officers and activists on hand. "NYSUT, you've moved a mountain, to the benefit of all our families in the state of New York."
A few years ago, NYSUT didn't even have a reception for legislators, because it seemed the union didn't have that many "friends in the Legislature." But this year, it hosted a warm and welcoming evening on the observation deck, with music provided by the Albany High School jazz ensemble.
"I believe in public education. I believe that is New York State's number one priority," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-East Northport. "The way we demonstrate that is by funding education so there is less pressure on the local property tax level, by funding education so the children in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, the Hudson Valley, Westchester, Long Island, the great city of New York, all have the opportunity, all have the advantage of having a fabulous, and I repeat fabulous, teacher in front of the classroom. In order to do that, we need to work together."
Flanagan said the "signature issue" this year is to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, and the Senate has already passed a one-house bill to that effect, but "that does not for one second mean that we don't support an increase in the foundation aid."
The state owes public schools $434 million to restore cuts from GEA, which has taken education money to help balance the state budget since the 2008–09 recession. The state owes 10 times that amount in foundation aid, the funding level prescribed in the wake of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
The governor's executive budget proposal includes an increase of $961 million in school aid next year. His plan would eliminate the GEA by 2018. NYSUT is seeking an increase of $2.6 billion to begin to fairly fund public education, which would include elimination of the GEA in 2016-17.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, the leader of the Senate Democratic Conference, said Senate Democrats are committed to providing adequate school aid. "Our obligation to the future is right here in the present. We are here because we care, and we promise to get it done."
Assembly Higher Education Chair Deborah J. Glick, D-New York, said it will take teamwork to provide adequate resources for CUNY, SUNY, community colleges and SUNY hospitals.
"We're going to have a big lift, and we're counting on all of you," she said.
State investment is essential, Glick said, so student tuition can rightly pay for programs, courses and faculty, instead of operating costs. "It's time we stop putting a mortgage on our future," she said.
This month, NYSUT launches its Invest in Futures — Save Higher Education Initiative to ensure quality, opportunity and access at colleges and universities across the state. It calls for a real "maintenance of effort" law, increased support for community colleges, and restoration of cuts to SUNY hospitals.