While a traditional face-to-face BOCES Lobby Week isn’t possible right now, BOCES students, educators and parents made the most of technology to tell lawmakers how important it is to fully fund BOCES.
With a full week of virtual meetings and poignant video messages, students, educators, parents and administrators put a face on the state’s wide range of BOCES programming — whether it’s offering popular career and technical education, a foundation for college and the military, or a lifeline for students who aren’t thriving in traditional school settings.
Lily Ansell was one of those special education students who needed a smaller setting and more mental health support than her home district could provide.
In Zoom sessions with western New York legislators, Lily and her mom explained how the supportive approach and hands-on learning at Erie 1 BOCES have made her dream of becoming an animal trainer a reality.
“BOCES has helped me so much,” said Lily, who is enrolled in both special education and career and technical education programs. “Now I’m on the honor roll and planning to go to SUNY Cobleskill’s animal science program for canine training and management.”
But under the governor’s proposed budget, BOCES funding is in severe jeopardy, said Donna Walters, president of the Erie 1 Professional Educators Association. The executive budget would combine 11 expense-based aids including BOCES and transportation into a “services aid” block grant, where school districts would be able to choose where to target funding.
“We are strongly opposed to this consolidation plan because it will definitely reduce funding for BOCES and close the door for many students,” Walters said. “If there’s a finite amount of money and a district has to choose between spending money on three buses — or a BOCES alternative education placement — we’re afraid CTE and alternative education are going to lose out.”
"It would be short-sighted to reduce BOCES services," said Assemblyman Jon Rivera, D-Rochester. "It would be a shame if we lost these kinds of programs."
Advocates also urged lawmakers to reject the executive budget proposal to allow federal education funds to supplant state support of schools. More state aid means districts can afford to contract with BOCES for regional services.
Lawmakers heard from a wide variety of students and educators who put a face on the incredible depth and breadth of BOCES programs, from specialized automotive programs to culinary education to building trades which lead to immediate employment.
Sarah Mandelkow, a student at Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES, explained how the sports medicine program offers hands-on experience in a regional state-of-the-art facility her home district could never offer.
Jessica Cohen, a Patchogue-Medford High School senior, said the physical therapy aide program at Eastern Suffolk BOCES Bixhorn Technical Center has helped her follow her dreams and find her passion.
“This program has absolutely changed my life,” Cohen said. “Taking this course has really opened my eyes to helping patients recover both physically and mentally.”
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said it’s the personal stories like these that lawmakers will remember as they start debating priorities in the state budget due April 1.
“You turn dollars and cents (on paper) into names and faces,” he said.