For the second year in a row, NYSUT this week marshaled its legendary volunteer lobbying infantry in a virtual format to pursue critical policy goals in the state legislative session.
COVID-19 has changed the way business gets done in Albany, but it has not stopped the union from making great progress.
“It’s been hard,” said President Andy Pallotta, speaking to hundreds in a massive Zoom briefing for political activists who will be meeting virtually with their lawmakers over the next two weeks. Normally they would invade Albany for one long day of in-person meetings.
“It’s hard to imagine the world ever feeling normal again,” Pallotta said, but “we have the opportunity to provide a solid foundation for our students and to provide a better future for public education.”
Pallotta told the grassroots activists, “Your voice in this process is crucial. You’re the only ones who can bring the real stories from the classrooms, the school buses and the counselors’ offices. Lawmakers want to hear from you about why these issues are so important.
“The work you are about to embark on is crucial to the future of the education system and to our union,” he said.
For the first time in years, the executive budget proposal — the first from new Gov. Kathy Hochul — does not seek widespread spending cuts or to eliminate programs.
“We are not starting out behind the eight ball,” said Legislative Director Alithia Rodriguez-Rolon, but we do need to advocate further initiatives as outlined by NYSUT’s Future Forward Task Force.
Reflected throughout the union’s legislative agenda, #FutureForward is based on the work of an exceptional group of education professionals who identified the greatest challenges facing students, educators and families. Their report recommended ways to tackle those issues on the federal, state and local levels.
The goal is not only to address academic concerns and barriers to education too many students face, but also to address the ways poverty manifests in the classroom, focus on students’ social-emotional needs, fight for racial justice for every student and de-emphasize punitive high-stakes testing.
“You put the faces to all of the dollars,” Rodriguez-Rolon told the volunteers, who will spend hours connecting with lawmakers, “and you will make the connections between these issues, their constituents and their voters.”
Among myriad legislative “asks,” NYSUT is calling for dedicated funding to expand the number of community schools; new laws to set minimum staffing levels and ensure there’s a social worker, school psychologist, counselor and nurse in every school; support for prospective teachers, particularly educators of color, and restoring funding to teacher centers.
The union also seeks repeal of the oppressive receivership law and relief from the punitive consequences of flawed standardized tests.
On higher education issues, NYSUT backs United University Professions, representing academic and professional faculty at SUNY campuses, and the Professional Staff Congress, representing faculty and professional staff at CUNY, each of which seek more than $250 million in additional funding for their campuses.
The union also seeks to restore the mission funding, or subsidy, for the three SUNY hospitals to the 2017–18 level of $88 million.
In spite of conceptual support for community colleges in the governor’s proposal, NYSUT local unions at community colleges seek state aid that reflects pre-COVID enrollments and a more stable funding methodology.
All in all, Pallotta expressed hope for a new normal that will be better than ever in the near future.
“It is March Madness!” he said of the annual “big dance” for the state budget. “And we are not together in person. But next year, we will be! You stay resilient and relentless.“