Standing in the center of the noisy mass of coalition partners and activists overflowing the Million Dollar Staircase in the state Capitol, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta looked up to the ceiling and smiled.
"It's great to be here among friends, which doesn't always happen in this building," he said. "… My wish is that all of us here would be able to pay the millionaire's tax! It's on my bucket list!"
On this first Monday in March, weeks before the state budget is enacted on March 31, Pallotta and NYSUT local union leaders, leaders of other unions, progressive activists from Stronger Economy for All and the Fiscal Policy Institute pulled no punches in letting state lawmakers and the governor know how they could generate enough additional revenue to meet the state's needs:
- Extend and expand the "millionaire's tax," and n Close the "carried-interest loophole."
NYSUT fully supported the state Assembly in its call to extend AND expand the "millionaire's tax," moves that would increase state revenue by $5.6 billion. The proposal would expand the income tax surcharge on the state's highest earners, incrementally raising rates an additional .5 percent for those making more than $5 million, 1 percent for those making more than $10 million and 1.5 percent for those making more than $100 million.
The union was also backing a twohouse initiative to close the "carried-interest loophole" that benefits only hedge-fund managers and private equity partners while costing taxpayers some $3.5 billion a year in tax revenue that could be used to expand programs that support students and middle class families.
Because they derive their income from transactions and capital gains, not salaries, these finance managers pay half the income tax rate most people do. The proposal would allow the state to recoup this lost revenue.
During the annual ritual known as the union's Committee of 100 Advocacy Day, nearly 600 NYSUT grassroots activists descended on the Capitol to seek more financial support from the state for schools, colleges and hospitals.
When lawmakers asked, "Where will we get the money?" the activists were armed with the answers: Expand the tax and close the loophole.
Classroom teachers, college faculty and professionals, and other educators fanned out to meet with local legislators.
They pressed for a $2.1 billion increase in school aid, the same level of funding called for by the Regents; a strong, multiyear investment in SUNY, CUNY and the state's community colleges; funding for faculty initiatives, and restoration in state subsidies to SUNY hospitals.
College students, unions join forces for higher ed funding
A week earlier, hundreds of college students from the tip of Long Island, from New York City and from Central and Western New York boarded buses in the predawn darkness and bounded off them to roll down the Empire State Plaza concourse and tell their stories to lawmakers. The message:
- Boost the state's investment in public higher education, and
- provide funding for faculty initiatives.
United under the catch phrase "Invest in Futures," the students — joined by academic and professional faculty from SUNY and CUNY — squeezed into a large meeting room off the concourse to rally together before they broke into smaller groups for visits with legislators. It was standing room only.
"We're running out of chairs, we're running out of coffee," said Pallotta. "What a great problem to have! This is very exciting!"
Some students awoke at 5 a.m., some at 4 a.m. and some never went to bed the night before.
"You are the spectacular ones, the ones who got up early to ride the buses to be here," said Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen. "We've never had so large a group here. We cannot waste this day!"
"It's different this year," United University Professions President Fred Kowal said after addressing the student activists. "There's a dialogue, and the fact that lawmakers are asking for information from us is very important."
One busload of Suffolk County Community College students managed two special conferences with top legislative leaders: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
It was important to bring the students to the leaders, said Kevin Peterman, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College. "We've been underfunded for way too long. We need to drive that story home."
Students, educators emphasize the value of BOCES' programs
To Tamira Glover, being in a BOCES program for incarcerated youth literally saved her life.
"Honestly if it hadn't been for my BOCES family, it would have gone one of two ways," Glover told state lawmakers as she passionately made the case for more BOCES funding during a special lobby day in March. "I'd either be doing major time or I'd be dead. I really believe BOCES saved my life."
Serving time in Westchester County Jail when she was just 17, Glover said the educators at Southern Westchester BOCES' Sprain Brook Academy pushed her to develop her reading skills, focus on school work and turn her life around. Now, with a Regents high school diploma, she's planning to attend college this fall.
Glover was one of many BOCES students who took part in the March 1 BOCES advocacy day, lobbying side by side with her BOCES counselor, Kevin McAllister, and science teacher Keith Mattos, both members of Southern Westchester BOCES TA.
The students poignantly made the case for more state funding so programs can be enhanced and expanded.
Their stories were as varied as the incredible range of BOCES programs — from intensive special education programs to career and technical offerings in fast-growing fields like health sciences and the trades.
Campaign targets bid to enrich corporate charter schools
Not all the action was on the streets and in the corridors of power. Tens of thousands of NYSUT "e-activists" hammered away at legislators through the NYSUT Member Action Center, and through their own Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In response to the state Senate Republicans' attempt to push unacceptable charter school expansion plans throughout the state, NYSUT launched an online campaign to stop the "DeVosTATION." The Senate proposal sought $244 million for charter schools, and would lift the statewide cap on the number of these publicly funded, privately run schools.
Tying the move to the extreme privatization schemes and charter follies coming out of Secretary Betsy DeVos' federal Department of Education, the ongoing NYSUT campaign generated more than 20,000 messages to GOP senators in mere days.
Other MAC campaigns advocated for teacher centers, to end receivership, to preserve health care reimbursements for retirees, to support opt-out rights and much more.
The state's new fiscal year begins April 1. Watch www.nysut.org for updates about the state budget and how it affects you.
Advocacy by the numbers
8 District offices of seven Republican state senators picketed by NYSUT local union members to protest the lawmakers' support of a proposal to expand charter schools across the state.
4,203 Phone calls by NYSUT members and retirees to Senate Republicans to say NO to the expansion of charter schools in New York State. Forty-two percent of them went to Sen. Flanagan.
$394.6 million Cash held by publicly funded, privately run charter schools in New York State, with $451.1 million in unrestricted net assets, according to NYSUT's newly updated report, "Flush With Cash." Go to www.nysut.org/news/2017/march/charters-holding-nearly-400-million-in-cash.
19,708 Faxes sent to 32 Republican state senators in the first two days of our "Say NO to MILLIONS more for Corporate Charters" campaign against the GOP's DeVosian proposal to lift the cap on charter schools and boost charter school funding by $244 million. Nearly half of those faxes were sent to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
600 Lobbyists-for-a-day — all NYSUT members or retirees — flooded lawmakers' offices to share stories from the front lines of education and health care on NYSUT's modestly named Committee of 100 Advocacy Day. Even the first Committee of 100, in 1973, exceeded its description when 165 activists marched into the Capitol.
90,272 People reached by our social media campaign targeting GOP senators for trying to bring DeVosTATION to New York.
13 Billboards NYSUT posted statewide to remind parents about their rights to "opt-out" their children from state tests.
700 Students from State and City University of New York campuses and community colleges converged on the Capitol for Higher Education Lobby Day to urge lawmakers to support public higher education.
And we're not done yet ...
Stop the DeVosTATION
If President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos get their way, three essential federal grant programs would be wiped out to help pay for private school vouchers. New York State could lose more than $368 million in federal funding that is used to recruit, hire and retain effective teachers; reduce class sizes; provide professional development opportunities, especially for educators who teach children with disabilities and English language learners; fund before- and after-school programs; and offer college aid for undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need.
In all, Trump's DeVosTATING budget contains:
- a 50 percent increase for charter school funding.
- a $250 million private school "choice" program.
- $1 billion for a fund portability program, which is nothing more than a disguised voucher system. Portability could bankrupt some public schools and slash funding for the rest.
Call your representative in Congress and tell them to stop the DeVos agenda. To find your elected official, go to mac.nysut.org.
Don't destroy our health care
The American Health Care Act would have been disastrous. Though the GOP-led House pulled the bill after it was clear it would not pass, Republicans will surely try again. Tell your representatives in Washington: Don't destroy our health care! Use your Facebook and Twitter accounts to add to the growing chorus of dissent.
To find your elected official, go to mac.nysut.org.
Support our students, schools
A day of action for public education is set for May 1 across New York State. Events are sponsored by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS). Contact your local president to see what is planned in your community and watch www.nysut.org for more details.
Voting on school budgets and elections for school board members take place May 16. Support students and educators by approving school budget proposals and by electing school board members who are pro-public education.