When NYSUT President Andy Pallotta sat down with UFT President Michael Mulgrew today to testify about state aid to education, he said he didn’t want to play the numbers game.
“I really want to share the voices of our members,” he said. “We’ve been traveling New York by bus in recent weeks, calling on the state to fund our future. The overarching message we’ve heard in every region we’ve visited is that current state aid simply isn’t enough.”
He shared with lawmakers the numerous needs that teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators have relayed during NYSUT’s Fund Our Future bus tour, which had been joined by a number of the lawmakers at the joint legislative budget hearing on elementary and secondary education.
In White Plains, where Senate Education Chair Shelley Mayer rode along, the district has had to cut social worker positions, leaving just two to deal with caseloads of more than 600 students at a time when the social-emotional needs of students are increasing.
In tiny Schenevus in the Mohawk Valley, not only has the district cut AP courses and doubled class sizes, officials showed one classroom with a leaking roof and mold growing on one wall.
“The saddest story we’ve heard this year,” Pallotta said, was in Rochester, where they visited with Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D–Rochester. Owed $86 million in Foundation Aid, the district laid off more than 100 teachers and paraprofessionals in December. School employees say they feel they’ve been abandoned by the state in the wake of a disaster.
Bronson recalled the visit to RISE School in Rochester, where the need was glaring. With fully funded Foundation Aid, the school could have a full-time librarian, and enough books so that kids would not have to share, and the social workers and paraprofessionals they need in the building.
“In Rochester,” he said, “50 percent of the students live in poverty. What full funding would mean is access and equity.”
Pallotta recalled holes in the walls, where drinking fountains used to be.
Down the road in Niagara Falls, “we saw a line like in a bus station, students waiting to see a guidance counselor,” he said.
“Social workers, college prep courses, proper class sizes and safe classrooms are not luxuries. They are necessities,” Pallotta said. “Our children do not get a do-over. The state must increase funding to meet the needs of all students this year.”
Assembly Education Chair Mike Benedetto, a former UFT member who taught in the Bronx, accompanied the bus tour at IS 181 in the Bronx, where staff is stretched nearly to the breaking point.
“I applaud the professionals you represent,” he said to Pallotta and Mulgrew. “They have been oft criticized, and unjustly. We know the great job your teachers do.”
“Thank you for going around the state and making the argument that this is an issue in every region,” Sen. Mayer said. Last fall, Mayer conducted a series of regional forums to discuss Foundation Aid, specifically, as well.
Pallotta’s full written testimony can be found here.
NYSUT, as a member of the New York State Educational Conference Board, is calling for a $2.1 billion increase in state aid in the 2020–21 state budget, which includes the first installment of a three-year phase-in of the more than $3.4 billion in Foundation Aid owed to more than 400 school districts around New York.
In order to generate the revenue needed to fully fund public education, in addition to other state services like public higher education, health care, housing and transportation, NYSUT is supportive of new taxes on billionaires and ultramillionaires.
Pallotta is inviting lawmakers to attend upcoming Fund Our Future tour stops to see and hear firsthand the issues schools are facing. A full schedule of tour dates and stops can be found at FundOurFutureNY.org.