ALBANY, N.Y. Sept. 10, 2020 — New York State United Teachers on Thursday called on the state to “fund our future” and stop 20 percent cuts to education aid that already have led to cuts in districts across the state.
Joined by local union and school district leaders, elected officials and others outside the state Capitol Thursday afternoon, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta renewed calls for both the federal and state governments to step up and fully fund public schools that are facing devastation from the coronavirus pandemic-induced fiscal crisis. He spoke in front of hundreds of empty chairs signifying the educators and school staff members who have lost their jobs.
NYSUT has repeatedly called for a two-pronged approach to addressing the budget gap the state faces: The federal government must deliver necessary stimulus funding for the state and school districts by passing the HEROES Act. The state itself must consider all options for addressing the deficit at the state level, including the use of rainy day and settlement funds and enacting new revenue raisers, such as taxes on the ultrawealthy.
On Wednesday, the union — citing the state Constitution’s requirement to provide every student a sound basic education — said it would look to take legal action against the state if it follows through with plans to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in school aid later this month.
“Educators have done everything they can to support students since this pandemic started, and as a new school year begins our students need more resources, not less,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “Public schools are vital institutions in our communities and funding cuts will exacerbate the disruption students have already faced. Make no mistake, the federal government must do its part, but in the absence of that support, it is incumbent upon our state leaders to intervene and prevent these devastating cuts. The message is simple: Fund our future and stop these cuts.”
School districts around the state already have cut or are poised to cut hundreds of positions, with more layoffs if further state budget cuts take place. Cuts so far run the gamut from hundreds of layoffs combined in Albany and Schenectady, to 116 in Syracuse, 57 in Copiague and 44 in Norwich, among others. Meanwhile, New York City has threatened thousands of layoffs if state cuts go through and Rochester also has eyed significant cuts.
“Any loss of staff is painful not just for hard-working APSTA members, but also for our students who rely on their teachers,” Albany Public School Teachers Association President Laura Franz said. “What makes this even more painful is this is happening just as the school year begins, when we’re trying to establish connections with our students and start things off on the right foot. Asking school districts to do more with less isn’t an effective strategy at any time, but especially not when we’re grappling with a once-in-a-generation crisis like this pandemic.”
“School-Related Professionals play a vital role in helping our schools run, and cutting these positions has a lasting impact on our school community,” Albany Public Schools United Employees President Sonya Flowers said. “All of us — from our custodial staff to our cafeteria employees to our hall monitors — are committed to Albany students. We want to provide them with the best services possible, but we need the resources to make that work.”
“Our district has been forced to lay off 280 support staff and to eliminate 146 teaching positions and more cuts in administration will be occurring next week,” Schenectady Federation of Teachers President Juliet Benaquisto said. “This was in part accomplished by delaying pre-K options for families, which will forever impact those young students. Additionally, critical supports for students with reading deficiencies and other academic needs, social emotional needs, and individualized, trauma sensitive behavioral supports have been cut. These are not just some extra supports for students — they are essential. As a result, I fear we will struggle to provide the basic and sound education our students are entitled to under the state Constitution.”
“We’ve already seen more than 100 staff members lose their jobs, and in a district that is dependent on the state for 85 percent of our funding, cuts of any size would have a dramatic impact,” Syracuse Teachers Association President William Scott said. “As educators and school staff members, it’s our job to provide the highest quality education and services for our students. But losing staff and services runs counter to our mission.”
“In a small school district like ours, losing nearly 50 positions accounts for more than 15 percent of our total staff,” Norwich Educators Organization President Eric Cunningham said. “But given that we more heavily rely on state aid, this isn’t just about how hard it is to absorb the loss of valuable educators and School-Related Professionals right now. We worry about how much more devastation we could weather if future cuts become a reality. This has to stop now. For our students and our community, we need government action to fund our future.”
At the state Capitol, there are a number of legislative proposals that would raise billions of dollars in new revenue through new taxes on billionaires and ultramillionaires to help address the state’s fiscal crisis and fund public services, including education, health care, housing and transportation.
“Our students deserve the highest quality education with the teachers, administrators, staff and supports necessary to obtain it, which is why we must provide aid to our local school districts and eliminate any proposed cuts in funding,” state Sen. Neil Breslin said.
“The educational divide in the state, even before COVID-19, was a crisis,” Assemblymember Patricia Fahy said. “Compounding this with massive budget cuts will only further devastate our highest-need students. We need all cards on the table: federal aid, state revenue raisers and an equitable distribution of any unavoidable cuts.”
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.