February Issue
January 23, 2015

NYSUT blisters Cuomo's draconian anti-teacher agenda

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Sarah Mattice of Schalmont Teachers Association posted this photo in her Twitter feed, saying the "power" is in our hands. Local presidents can order these buttons from NYSUT Regional Offices. Photo provided.

Hollow rhetoric. Ridiculous. Clueless.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee minced no words when talking to reporters about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's vicious assault on public education and the teaching profession.

nysut united cover cuomo 

State Budget 2015

"He has declared war on the public schools," Magee told The New York Times. "I'll be happy to stand with the teachers, the students and the parents if the governor wants to have a war ... I'm more than confident we will win."

Before the governor even finished delivering his 90-minute speech, the Twitter universe was burning up, under the hashtag #AllKidsNeed.

"If Cuomo cared about what #AllKidsNeed, he would not be raising the stakes on Common Core exams," tweeted one.

"#AllKidsNeed a governor who cares about kids instead of using them as pawns in a game of high stakes revenge," said another.

"This mama bear/teacher/lover of children will RESIST more bad reforms," wrote another.

Numerous media outlets noted how quickly and vehemently educators struck back via social media to what is considered the worst attack on educators and public schools in the state's modern history.

The 2012 NYS Teacher of the Year Katie Ferguson delivered a clear video message telling the governor to put politics aside and students first. Others, using the hashtag #InviteCuomo, urged the governor to visit their schools for a much-needed reality check.

In a sweeping executive budget, Cuomo proposed:

  • Dramatically increasing the state's role in teacher evaluations and stripping away local control. The weight of state tests would increase from 20 percent to 50 percent. And, in a stunning lack of trust for all district professionals, the governor would mandate that the other half be at least two observations, with one conducted by a so-called "independent observer" - a principal or administrator from outside or within the district, a SUNY/CUNY professor or a "trained independent evaluator" from a State Education Department list.
  • Gutting teacher tenure. Cuomo wants teachers to remain on probationary status until they receive five consecutive "effective" ratings on their teacher evaluation. A single "developing" rating could derail a teacher's professional path. In reality, it would negate tenure and keep re-setting the clock.
  • Raising the cap on charter schools by 100 (to 560) and ending regional caps to make the number a statewide tally. New York City has 24 charter slots remaining under the existing system. Cuomo would also increase per-pupil funding for charters by $75.
  • Giving SED the power to put failing schools or even districts into receivership, with broad powers, further eroding local control. Cuomo called for appointing nonprofit groups, school-turnaround experts, or other school districts to oversee schools that have fallen on the state's lowest performing list for three years. The law would give "receivers" the authority of local superintendents, allowing them to restructure schools, overhaul curricula and offer salary incentives. It would undercut collective bargaining agreements and contracts.
  • Renewing mayoral control of New York City schools. He encouraged other cities to apply for mayoral control as well.
  • Amending the 3020-a hearing process for "poor performance," creating a presumption in favor of administrators; teachers would have to prove their evaluation score was fraudulent.
  • Offering $20,000 merit pay to teachers who are "legitimately rated highly effective."

For higher education, Cuomo wants to tie state aid to student performance (rather than enrollment) and close down teacher education programs if 50 percent of students fail new certification exams in three consecutive years.

Cuomo also played a power game with state lawmakers by tying the Dream Act, which would provide tuition aid for children of undocumented immigrants, with a tax credit for donors to public and private schools. The $100 million Education Tax Credit plan is, in reality, a back-door voucher benefiting individuals or businesses that donate to "public schools, school improvement organizations, local education funds and educational scholarship organizations."

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said it's obvious Cuomo cares more about rewarding his billionaire donors than doing what's right for kids and teachers. The union, he said, is determined to defeat these draconian proposals, working side by side with parents, students, coalition partners and supportive legislators.