March/April 2021 Issue
February 28, 2021

Union to State: Keep your promise to students

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
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They’re on buses, they’re on billboards, they’re on your Facebook and Instagram pages — they’re everywhere: ads imploring lawmakers to address, once and for all, the chronic underfunding that for too long has plagued the state’s public education system.

The omnipresent demand is part of a $300,000 multimedia campaign launched by NYSUT in January and is an extension of last year’s Fund Our Future bus tour, during which the union’s leadership traveled the state over a threemonth span to highlight the immense difficulties with which schools are struggling due to an unrelenting shortage of state aid. Funded through a National Education Association grant, this latest statewide multipronged campaign by NYSUT — consisting of billboards, mass transit ads, digital advertisements playing across social media platforms and polling — will run through April.

“New York State has a moral obligation to ensure every student receives a quality education and the chance to succeed no matter the ZIP code in which they live,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “But the persistent lack of appropriate state funding is robbing students of that opportunity. We are needlessly and recklessly risking the future of our children, who do not have the luxury of a ‘do-over.’ It’s time that Albany rights this wrong.”

The state owes a total of $4.05 billion to school districts across New York. The massive shortfall has wreaked havoc on school systems at a time when increasing demands are being placed upon them. The funding gap has left schools severely understaffed, resulted in larger class sizes and extreme overcrowding, eroded academic intervention, mental health and interpretation services, and led to the elimination of hundreds of positions and programs.

Consider:

In Rochester last year, district officials enacted midyear cuts of more than 100 teachers and nearly 70 support staff, a move that caused disruption for thousands of students.

In Schenectady, 100 teachers and more than 200 School-Related Professionals were eliminated in September.

In Riverhead on Long Island, overcrowding has been so bad at Pulaski Street Elementary that lunch has been served on a rotating basis to 420 students who have been forced to eat in 11-minute shifts.

In Kenmore, reading services have been conducted out of coatrooms.

And in Niagara Falls, there’s one social worker for every 2,000 students and only eight guidance counselors for the district’s entire 7,000-student population.

Along with supporting the infusion of federal aid to supplement — not supplant — the state budget, NYSUT will continue fighting for passage of a progressive tax plan to raise revenues through new taxes on billionaires and ultramillionaires in New York State to ensure they pay their fair share.

Polls have shown an overwhelming majority of New York voters agree with the union on this issue, and want to levy new taxes on the ultrawealthy, many of whom have grown richer during the COVID-19 pandemic while — like public schools — too many families have struggled just to scrape by.

“Teachers and School-Related Professionals have been doing nothing short of a remarkable job in an increasingly challenging and hamstrung environment,” said Pallotta.

“But we can only tread water so long. The chronic underfunding that is plaguing our schools will eventually make it impossible for districts to keep their head above water. It’s time New York State keep its promise to our students and provide the funding necessary for the quality education to which they are entitled.”

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