ALBANY, N.Y. March 8, 2016 — More than 800 New York State United Teachers' activists converged on the state Capitol today to urge lawmakers to take advantage of the state's $5.4 billion budget surplus and make significant new investments in public education.
The grassroots activists — from public school districts, campuses and hospitals across the state — said rebuilding SUNY, CUNY and the state's community colleges, and boosting state aid to the state's nearly 700 school districts, must be the state's top priority if public education is to ever fully recover from cuts sustained during the recession.
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said the union's volunteer lobbyists would press legislators to boost state aid to public schools by $2.5 billion and make good on $318 million in prior year aid claims, while advocating that elected leaders enact a true maintenance of effort bill and help CUNY and SUNY recover from the loss of $1.5 billion in state support since 2008.
"New York's public schools and colleges are critical to the future of our state. The state budget surplus tops $5 billion. It may be years before there is a better opportunity to make the necessary investments that students — from pre-K all the way through graduate school — need and deserve," Magee said. "Our message to Albany is: Let's do it this year."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said that with the tax cap set at near zero the state must invest at least $700 million more than what the executive budget proposed in order to offset what school districts would ordinarily raise in local funding. He said $2.5 billion in new school aid would enable the state to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment and make a significant down payment on the $4.4 billion in Foundation Aid still owed to school districts.
"High-needs school districts, which serve our state's most vulnerable student populations, suffered a disproportionate share of budget cuts during the recession. Despite additional state support in the past few years, many have still not fully recovered," Pallotta said. "With the tax cap at basically zero, Albany must step up this year with a herculean investment in its public schools while recognizing that SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges are the keys to a bright future for so many middle-class students."
In public higher education, NYSUT planned to urge lawmakers to fully fund SUNY and CUNY four-year campuses; reject performance-based funding; and create a $250 million Excelsior Excellence Fund endowment. NYSUT is strongly opposing a $485 million cost shift to CUNY and supporting calls for maintaining funding to support collective bargaining at CUNY. In addition, the union is calling for a $250 per full-time student equivalent increase in aid to SUNY and CUNY community colleges.
In pre-K-12, NYSUT activists planned to urge legislators to elect new Regents who would reject the test-and-punish agenda and support course corrections that would restore the joy of teaching and learning to New York classrooms. In addition, NYSUT activists planned to call for repeal of the state's broken, punitive receivership law; support additional funding to create community schools; oppose the Parental Choice in Education Act and the Education Investment Tax Credit; increase funding for teacher centers; and modify the undemocratic tax cap.
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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