I was proud to join NYSUT member Maria DeAngelo in mid-April on the final mile of her power walk from the North Country to Albany.
Maria, a member of the Saranac Lake Teachers Association, walked 152 miles through often raw spring weather to make an important point. Her destination was the governor's office and her message was simple: "Walk in our shoes!" Her dedication inspired all who met her and walked with her along the way.
Maria's long journey only underscores that in our fight against a toxic education agenda, we are clearly in for a marathon, not a sprint.
When the state budget was adopted in the early morning hours of April 1, I was in the gallery watching along with my fellow NYSUT officers. We felt deep disappointment that the governor was able to impose an unworkable, convoluted and test-heavy evaluation system - one that will do nothing to help students, teachers or schools. The governor wanted a greater emphasis on standardized testing - and he got it.
There were some positives in the recently enacted state budget. Schools received a much-needed state aid increase, one we fought hard for to restore state cuts that have so burdened our schools. The Legislature put off - at least for now - expanding opportunities for charter management and said "no" to funneling more than $100 million in tax credits to the rich.
And while the budget falls short of the funding public higher education deserves, it increases aid to community colleges; increases funding to opportunity programs; and rejects the governor's proposal for a private equity pilot program (think: hedge funds) that could have opened the door to privatization of SUNY's three teaching hospitals.
Still, make no mistake: Our focus in the weeks and months ahead will be to fix what the governor's toxic agenda has broken and ensure that the rest of the legislative session moves in the right direction.
We started immediately. NYSUT's fierce pushback against the governor's test-and-punish agenda intensified in the wake of budget passage. We launched a statewide TV campaign criticizing the governor and his hedge fund billionaire backers for trying to "rewrite history" and pile on high-stakes testing, privatize classrooms and divert money away from public schools with tax breaks to the wealthy.
Our post-budget blitz of the Regents - thousands of emails calling for public hearings on teacher evaluations - is bearing fruit. Chancellor Merryl Tisch subsequently agreed to hold a hearing in Albany in early May - a step in the right direction - and we're looking forward to more details. The chancellor also signaled that she is working on an administrative solution that would allow an additional 10 months for districts that, because of "hardship," cannot meet the deadline of Nov. 15 to get new plans approved for Annual Professional Performance Reviews.
These interim steps are a start toward fixing what's broken in New York state's education agenda.
Another step forward: On its first day back in session, the Assembly Education Committee approved a NYSUT-supported bill sponsored by Education Chairwoman Cathy Nolan that informs parents of their right to opt their children out of the standardized tests, and prohibits punitive sit-and-stare policies. The next day, the Senate introduced its own opt-out bill.
There are two months left in the legislative session and many important issues to be decided. We can't let up on the pressure. Keep using the NYSUT Member Action Center - mac.nysut.org - to urge lawmakers to support the parent opt-out bill and to push the Regents to listen to educators, parents and students as they carve out teacher evaluation regulations.
A marathon takes a lot of perseverance and hard work to get to the finish line. Let me be clear: NYSUT has the perseverance for a marathon - if that's what it takes. What's at stake is the future of public education, and we are in this for the long haul.
Saving public education - and fighting for what we believe in - has to be viewed, not as a quick dash, but as a long, steady marathon race to a finish line that means fairness for educators and quality public education for every child.