Education ensures an informed life, a chance for students to grow, develop skills and prepare for and excel at careers.
It's NYSUT's mission to protect this fundamental right, especially at a time when public education and critical public services are under financial duress and derogatory attacks. "Part of what we do ... is to raise people up. That's what social justice is — empowering people," said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale, who oversees the statewide union's social justice platform. "It's a tenet of our organization."
Raising awareness about the critical need for equitable funding for public education and public services is one of NYSUT's foremost goals, particularly in the face of ongoing threats from the so-called education "reformers" and private corporations, like publishing giant Pearson, that want nothing more than to siphon taxpayer dollars away from public education.
"We have the expectation that there will be equitable resources for all our students, but it's just not the case," said Pecorale, a longtime teacher in Patchogue-Medford on Long Island.
Simply put, wealthy communities can contribute more to their schools; other communities cannot, he said. "That's where we expect our government to come in."
Instead, state funding for public education from kindergarten through college has been cut dramatically, causing the elimination or reduction of vital programs and services for students. And schools with high needs are hurt the worst.
"It comes down to equality," he said. "Inequalities are too often found in communities that are low-income and those that serve students of color."
Students have lost after-school clubs, music, band, languages, theater, business classes and library services. They have lost an array of educators and social workers.
College is now often out of reach because of rising tuition and fees. The four-year degree is now extending to five or more because chronic underfunding dwindles the course offerings students need to graduate. Many students leave college with hefty debt burdens.
"We have to speak up for equity in funding, resources and programs," Pecorale said.
NYSUT, he said, will continue to advocate for students and educators at the state Capitol, work hard to elect candidates who support public education and inform union members and the public about the critical need to support public education.
"Fighting for every student's right to a sound, basic education isn't easy — and it isn't an option," he said. "We'll never give up the fight to keep that door open."
NYSUT, through its social justice mission, publishes this annual calendar to direct educators to some standard, new or underserved causes students can learn about. It offers only a sampling. For more events and causes, visit www.nysut.org/socialjustice.