New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli vowed to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with NYSUT in the fight against right-wing forces that seek to destroy unions, privatize education and destroy workers' rights.
DiNapoli received a spontaneous standing ovation from more than 2,100 delegates Saturday at NYSUT’s Representative Assembly. He returned the favor, praising outgoing President Karen E. Magee for her “most successful tenure as president of NYSUT … We are a better state for your efforts.”
He also tipped his hat to NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallota and the membership for their advocacy on behalf of schools. The phone calls, postcards, faxes and visits to Albany paid off with a $1.1 billion increase in school funding in the budget deal announced Friday night by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
DiNapoli also said that the state budget’s inclusion of free tuition for thousands of students at CUNY and SUNY would necessitate the hiring of more faculty “now that there's greater access."
DiNapoli received another standing ovation when he said the state needs to hold charter schools to the same levels of accountability and transparency as every taxpayer-funded school. “So, we’re going to keep doing our job in auditing those charter schools,” he said.
DiNapoli also expressed his continued support for defined-benefit pensions and his opposition to a constitutional convention, which is a referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot. Public employee unions are adamantly opposed to holding such a convention, calling it a threat to retirement security, workers’ compensation, state-guaranteed social service programs, public education and the right to organize.
He also took a moment to discuss the 180-degree change in federal education policy with the appointment of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a billionaire with no education experience who believes in so-called school choice and compares the selection of a school to choosing between ride-share car services Lyft and Uber.
“How do we explain Betsy DeVos?” DiNapoli asked, shaking his head. “Her agenda has one item: privatization of schools.”
The “battles are also in the courts,” DiNapoli said. He cited corporate America’s interest in undermining unions with the failed Friedrich’s lawsuit and noted that other similar cases are moving through the court system. One such case, Janus v. AFSCME, may be heard by the Supreme Court as early as next fall. With the confirmation of the right-leaning Neil Gorsuch as a Supreme Court justice, the court has the votes to destroy agency fees and “cripple the ability of unions to function,” DiNapoli said.
Yet, DiNapoli said he has faith in NYSUT’s advocacy, its hard-working members and those who support public schools, social justice and unions.
“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do ... I’m putting my money on the women and men of NYSUT, (not on Betsy DeVos),” DiNapoli said. “We all know what we have to do. We need to continue to fight back with a simple, united message.”
That message, he said, is this: Public schools and public school teachers built this nation, and public schools are still a great value.
“Public schools have always been the foundation of strong communities,” DiNapoli said.