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January 16, 2020

NYSUT ‘Fund Our Future’ bus tour draws attention to underfunding of Westchester schools

Source:  NYSUT Media Relations
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Caption: White Plains teacher Michelle Nisianakis, who works with immigrant students, said those children “need a community, they need support, but (with a lack of foundation aid) we don’t always have the resources ... to meet their social and emotional needs.”

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. Jan. 16, 2020 — New York State United Teachers is visiting Westchester County schools today to draw attention to the severe impact a lack of state funding has had on schools statewide. Union activists will also highlight the need for new revenues that will enable the state to tackle educational inequality, and other pressing needs.

Learn more about the "Fund Our Future" campaign at nysut.org/FundOurFuture.

Meeting with local union leaders, school administrators and elected officials Thursday morning in White Plains, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta called on state officials to make full funding of Foundation Aid, the underpinning of how New York funds schools, a top priority this legislative session. Pallotta also advocated for new taxes on billionaires and ultramillionaires that would generate billions of dollars in new revenue for essential state services.

“Our children do not get a do-over,” Pallotta said. “We hear every year that there is a budget gap, but the state can’t close it on the backs of the Hudson Valley’s middle-class families and students through more underfunding of our education system. Fully funding our students’ futures can’t wait any longer.”

During stops at Highlands Middle School and Ridgeway Elementary School, educators and administrators noted that the White Plains City School district is owed $12.8 million in Foundation Aid and highlighted some of the challenges this presents to educators.

“As educators, we get one chance to provide all of the support we possibly can for our children,” said White Plains City Schools Superintendent Joseph Ricca. “We all recognize that our students continue to come to us with unique and complex needs that exist at the root of healthy human development. We know that in order for all of our children to reach their full academic potential, we must first provide the essential services to supporting that healthy development. Fully funding the Foundation Aid formula would allow our district to continue to increase our children’s access to social/emotional learning supports, school social workers, psychologists, counselors, coaches and health care professionals where needed.”

The Fund Our Future bus is set to travel to the Hawthorne Cedar Knolls Union Free School District in Hawthorne Thursday afternoon.

Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, a Special Act public school district, educates students whose needs cannot be met in their local school districts. It is funded by a tuition rate set by the state. That rate is paid by underfunded community school districts. Without a long-term commitment from New York State to provide regular tuition increases and access to all of the revenue sources available to other public schools, HCKUFSD is unable to provide the full range of vocational instruction and opportunities so desperately needed by their students.

“Our administrative, clinical and instructional staff have done a wonderful job providing creative vocational opportunities for our students,” said Ray Raefski, HCKUFSD Director of Curriculum and Instruction. “Our goal is to continue to expand our program and provide our students with the best opportunities and pathways to becoming independent adults.”

State lawmakers are joining with NYSUT in drawing attention to the serious needs schools are facing.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “One of my top priorities as a state senator, and as the Senate Majority Leader, has been to help provide a high quality education to all New York students, regardless of where they live. Last year, the Senate Democratic Majority helped secure an over $1 billion increase in state education aid, and an over $850 million investment in Westchester County schools. Together with Senate Education Committee Chair Shelley Mayer and all of our colleagues in the Senate Democratic Majority, I will continue to invest in our public schools here in Westchester and throughout New York State.”

“My Senate Democratic colleagues and I are committed to a full phase-in of the Foundation Aid formula,” said Senate Education Committee Chair Shelley B. Mayer. “Thank you to NYSUT and President Andy Pallotta for demonstrating the passion of education stakeholders throughout the state to provide a quality education for every child. After hosting five regional roundtables and a public hearing, listening to superintendents, teachers, administrators, boards of education, parents and other advocates, it’s clear that we must advance a full phase-in of the Foundation Aid formula. The highest priority for the state’s future must be to ensure school districts have the necessary funding, resources and policies students need to thrive.”

“Equity in public education needs to be at the forefront of every discussion of school funding in New York State,” said Sen. Pete Harckham. “That’s why I am proud to stand with NYSUT and other supporters in their tireless advocacy for full funding of Foundation Aid for our schools and increased financial assistance to the districts that need it the most. These vital investments benefit our students and our communities; and in the long run, they strengthen and ready our nation for the challenges ahead.”

“We must fully fund our schools,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. “Suburban school districts in downstate counties have been disproportionately impacted by past cuts to Foundation Aid, with 86 districts still receiving less than 75 percent of their full Foundation Aid. Serious efforts need to be made to close these gaps in this year’s budget.”

“We ask students, teachers and staff to be their very best every day, and I have been pleased to be a part of a legislative body that has for many years pushed for increasing the Foundation Aid schools need to succeed,” said Assemblyman David Buchwald. “Properly funding Foundation Aid is essential for both students and taxpayers in the lower Hudson Valley so that schools have the resources needed to provide the quality education that keeps our communities strong.”

“I have long fought for adequate State funding for Special Act schools,” said Assemblymember Tom Abinanti. “I passed legislation to fully reimburse special act schools for costs uniquely attributable to their status as public schools, which was vetoed by the Governor. The kids at Special Act schools deserve a good education, just like every other kid, and the State must meet its obligation to pay for it.”

As the state budget takes shape, the Fund Our Future bus tour will stop in school districts around New York that, like White Plains and Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, have been underfunded by the state. Additional tour dates and locations will be announced in the near future.

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 Foundation Aid, in addition to other state services like health care, housing and transportation, NYSUT is supportive of new taxes on billionaires and ultramillionaires.

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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