When the COVID–19 pandemic emptied classrooms and shuttered school buildings last March, education didn’t stop. It continued in ways few had ever experienced.
“Overnight, teachers had to learn a new way to deliver instruction. Overnight, they had to figure out a new way to meet students’ learning needs. Overnight, students had to engage in a new way of learning,” said Rosemarie LoMonaco, director of the UFT Teacher Center in New York City.
“The teacher center was there to help them, overnight,” she said. “The craft of teaching became new again, even for our most experienced teachers.”
However, just as suddenly, funding for these crucial professional resources has dried up.
Twenty percent of the state aid for the last quarter of the 2019–20 school year is still outstanding, and none of the funding for the first quarter of this school year has been released, explained Marguerite Dimgba of the Greece TC, outside Rochester. Greece is the ninth largest district in the state. If it does get released, this year’s amount will be reduced by 20 percent, as well, the state says.
“The pace of the need is increasing and the funding is decreasing,” she said. “We desperately need your assistance.”
Dimgba spoke Tuesday evening on a Zoom conference arranged by NYSUT with members of the state Legislature’s education committees. Nearly 100 people joined the call, including many lawmakers and their staff, to hear how the lack of funding has hindered a powerful network with so much potential.
The current state budget includes $14.2 million for teacher centers, well below the full funding level of $40 million. Over many years, the program has usually been cut from early budget planning, only to be restored by education advocates in the Senate and Assembly.
“Teacher centers have the unique ability to rapidly adapt programming to the local environment, allowing them to become whatever the teachers they serve need,” said Valerie Lovelace, director of the Capital Region Teacher Center. “They are ideal for fostering innovation, addressing gaps and responding rapidly to emerging needs, which is what we have been doing over the past six months.”
Lia Council leads the Richard Gazzola Teacher Center of Yonkers. The center serves a district with more than 2,000 teachers and teaching assistants and 21,000 students with widely diverse needs and challenges. The center serves 12 nonpublic partners, as well.
With extremely limited resources and time, “We try to fill the needs and cover the gaps of what any teacher might need to be successful,” Council said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and in order to do that we really need the funding.”
With no end of the pandemic in sight, the need is only going to grow, said Mary Siano, of the William Floyd Teacher Center on Long Island.
“We need funding now, so we can prepare teachers for the next shifts in our educational practice,” she said.