April 2015 Issue
March 20, 2015

Magee: New Yorkers rising up against Cuomo's barricades to progress

Author: Karen E. Magee, President
Source: NYSUT United
NYSUT President Karen E. Magee

New Yorkers rising up against Cuomo's barricades to progress

Have you ever woken up in the morning with a song in your head? You have no idea where it came from but it stays with you all day, maybe for a few days.

Over the last few months, I have been stuck on the lyrics to "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from one of my favorite Broadway musicals, "Les Miserables":

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men …
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

I guess I do understand why those words resonate lately. There are, indeed, a lot of angry men — and women — in our ranks and, each day, their numbers at the barricade are growing and growing as their voices get louder and louder.

Of course, unlike "Les Miserables," the target today isn't the corrupt and elitist government of 1832 Paris. No, those of us at the barricades in 2015 are protesting another high government official with strong ties to the very rich at the expense of the rest of us.

But despite the growing unrest and the very public — and very boisterous — rejection of his anti-public education agenda, Gov. Cuomo still doesn't get it.

In a recent newspaper op-ed, the governor complained that his education reforms and budget proposal have been "lost in the noise" of the protest from the "teachers' union and education bureaucracy."

What he fails to realize is that it's his own proposals — which hold the budget hostage to passage of his so-called reforms — that have spurred the widespread discontent. And the protest is coming from every corner of the state, where parents, students, board members, superintendents and elected officials are joining NYSUT members — teachers, SRPs, higher ed faculty — and other unionists to denounce the governor's education agenda.

Almost every day — nights and weekends, too — school parking lots, gymnasiums, auditoriums and college campuses have been filled by thousands of New Yorkers who understand that the governor's plan for public education hurts educators, students and their families.

The governor's agenda is all about control, as NYSUT United and nysut.org have been reporting on a daily basis — news that is supplemented by our email-delivered Leader Briefing and brand-new Member Briefing. Any member can receive the Member Briefing by logging onto nysut.org with a valid personal email address and making sure the box to receive our emails is checked.

Whether the specific issue is teacher evaluation, testing, tenure, the property tax cap or state education spending, this governor wants to consolidate his power and undermine the democratic process in communities and school districts.

But, as the growing groundswell of opposition demonstrates, Gov. Cuomo has overreached, and overreached badly. Recent polling has shown that parents and communities across New York trust teachers and their unions, and are proud of their local schools. As for their opinion of the governor's plans, well, not so much.

According to a poll by the highly respected Quinnipiac University polling center, New Yorkers disapprove of the way Gov. Cuomo is handling public education by a whopping 63 to 28 percent margin. Respondents also told Quinnipiac — by a 71 to 25 percent margin — that they disapprove of using state test scores to make high-stakes decisions about teachers. (Click here for more on the poll.)

Meanwhile, NYSUT members are motivated and mobilized like never before. I am personally so proud and appreciative of that.

Brothers and sisters, it was the governor's decision to declare war on public education. It was his choice — through his irresponsible and offensive rhetoric — to demonize teachers. It was his choice to put forward policies and proposals that devalue all the wonderful things you do for the families of New York.

But Gov. Cuomo was right about one thing: There's a lot of noise out there. That noise is the collective roar of educators and other citizens rising up, speaking out and refusing to accept his attack on our public schools and universities without a fight.

Yes, if it's war he wants, it's war he's got.