It was supposed to be a spectacle.
The snowstorm that swamped the northeast Tuesday precipitated prudence for the safety of students as organizers canceled buses that were to bring hundreds of undergrads from all over the state to the Capitol in Albany.
But the weather didn’t stop dozens of grassroots NYSUT activists who stalked the halls and offices of lawmakers on Higher Education Lobby Day. It was a day to educate elected officials about key issues in the state budget negotiations.
The state must enact a budget by April 1.
“We’re here to urge lawmakers to make dramatic investments at SUNY and CUNY,” said United University Professions President Fred Kowal. “Growing funding gaps, staff shortages and limited course availability are becoming more common.
“And, it’s crucial to restore the state subsidy to SUNY hospitals that care for hundreds of thousands of patients regardless of whether they can afford to pay,” he said.
“Higher ed has been deliberately underfunded for years,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress. “CUNY runs on student tuition increases and exploited adjunct faculty. This has got to be fixed.”
As NYSUT testified in recent budget hearings, increased state investment at four-year colleges would help stave off difficult decisions about programs and student services.
Community colleges also need significant investment to ensure the state is meeting its statutory obligation to pay 40 percent of operating costs for these campuses. The state’s support is about 25 percent now, and going lower every year.
“Community colleges need the funding they deserve and were promised in Education Law,” said Kevin Peterman, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College .
The volunteer lobbyists-for-a-day advocated for the state to close the Tuition Assistance Program gap. A TAP award covers a student’s tuition, although it does not match the full tuition bill. Campuses must eat the difference — the “TAP gap” —, which could total $150 million for CUNY and SUNY in 2019-20.
In a cordial conversation Tuesday, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta thanked Assembly Education Committee chair Deborah Glick, D–Manhattan, for recognizing the importance and the fiscal impact of this issue by introducing a bill (A.720) to require the state to reimburse campuses for the gap expense.
“It would go a long way to mitigate the current situation,” Pallotta said.