September 2010 Issue
August 22, 2010

Capitol Briefing: Federal aid will help ease state budget pain

Author: Clarisse Butler Banks
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: President Barack Obama signs a $26 billion jobs bill to protect 300,000 teachers from layoffs. From left, Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis.; Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers; and three out-of-work teachers: Amanda VanNess of Toledo, Ohio; Shannon Lewis of Romney, W. Va.; and Rachel Martin of Richton Park, Ill. Photo by AP/ J. Scott Applewhite.

Union leaders welcomed the more than $600 million in federal aid that will save thousands of education jobs, but the millions in lost state support for schools and colleges means pain still abounds — and NYSUT continues the fight to prevent further attacks on public education.

The federal jobs funding, achieved through the advocacy of NYSUT and its national affiliates, will help mitigate $1.4 billion in school aid cuts. That funding may also open the door for badly needed restoration of some teacher center staff. The union is pressing lawmakers to do what's needed to officially release the federal funds.

NYSUT leaders, meanwhile, persist in their fight against renewed calls for a state cap on property taxes. Tax caps have wreaked havoc in other states, including California, Massachusetts and Colorado, where underfunding has led to larger class sizes and significant cuts in programs and staff. Caps could worsen the achievement gap, with homeowners in wealthy districts electing to spend resources not available to residents in poorer communities.

Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said the union will call on lawmakers "to stand up and uphold their longstanding support for what they know is right," as they head into elections this fall.

"Gimmicks like tax caps may be convenient politically but will do nothing to relieve the burden on property taxpayers," Pallotta said. NYSUT is committed to tax relief, long supporting a circuit-breaker that ties property taxes to income.

Once aid from the jobs legislation is factored in, schools will have absorbed $800 million in state aid cuts since last year.

"While this deep cut will have a devastating impact on programs, the support from Washington is putting thousands of educators back into the classroom," NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said.

"Still, too many of our sisters and brothers, here in New York and throughout the country, are out of work and are suffering."

Union leaders led the push for Congress to approve the $10 billion education jobs fund. Schools avoided the threat of midyear cuts as Congress approved billions in state support for Medicaid.

New York will get approximately $1 billion in Federal Medicaid Assistance Program funds this year, staving off a threatened $400 million in additional midyear cuts. Even with the federal aid, students face larger classes, fewer course offerings and fewer teachers.

Educators face an increased workload and the elimination of teacher centers — a major professional development resource.

While districts were looking at how to use the aid to bring back laid-off educators, some were eliminating even more positions.

At the State and City University systems, which have lost more than $800 million in the last two years, decreased state support and layoffs have contributed to record numbers of students being turned away. However, NYSUT and United University Professions were able to stave off an attack on public higher education access and affordability as lawmakers rejected the so-called Empowerment Act.

NYSUT continues to urge lawmakers to fund the state's 130 teacher centers and to override the governor's vetoes to provide additional resources to schools and community colleges.