January/February 2022 Issue
January 01, 2022

NYSUT United Special Edition: Future Forward

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This special edition of NYSUT United is dedicated to the five pillars of the union's Future Forward Task Force report:

In the coming weeks, NYSUT will also be launching our program to advocate for proper funding and support for SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions, community colleges and SUNY hospitals. We will also be adding focus to specific SRP issues.

This is just the beginning. We will be collecting and publishing more stories as we push for the future of public schools. Visit futureforwardny.org to see the full task force report, to read member stories and to add yours.

Future Forward Task Force focuses on whole child

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Almost two years ago, NYSUT started its “Fund Our Future” campaign to illuminate the glaring fiscal needs of schools and communities.

The statewide union rolled out a bus tour to visit schools in every corner of the state. In rural, urban and suburban districts unionists found a need for additional educators, social workers, school counselors and school nurses. Many schools had created food pantries and clothing closets to provide students with basic necessities and other supplies.

The tour revealed a lot of desperation. Three months after the campaign began, COVID–19 closed school buildings, as well as the state Capitol. However, while school buildings were closed, the work of educating and feeding students continued — under complicated, confusing conditions that educators had to figure out on the fly.

With legislative action in Albany and Washington, D.C., New York secured critical federal American Rescue Plan and increased state Foundation Aid funding to help schools and students recover from the past year and a half.

“When I say recover, I am not focusing on education, but rather the whole child, with an emphasis on the social and emotional needs of our students,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta told state Senators at the end of September. “We can no longer ignore the role that our teachers play in educating and shaping our children.” Pallotta said that in the wake of a pandemic, New York’s funding priorities must shift.

“It is unimaginable to me that after COVID, we still have school buildings without enough teachers, a full-time school nurse or a social worker, school counselor or school psychologist,” he said.

“The needs of our students have grown and become more complex. Throughout the pandemic, we had students who were caring for other siblings and relatives, and we had students who lacked internet access, which prevented them from engaging in educational activities.”

Over the course of several months, NYSUT organized discussions with an exceptional group of educators from around the state — the Future Forward Task Force — to envision a way forward for our students, our members and our schools. In its report, the task force said the purpose of public schools is to develop and support the next generation of leaders in our communities, cultivate and nurture the whole child and support families as they raise children to be healthy, caring and productive citizens.

The COVID–19 pandemic reminded all of us how important schools are and that they are the center of our communities, the cornerstone of democracy. Rather than simply returning to “normal,” NYSUT’s task force advocates building the schools that students deserve.

The past 18 months have been a turning point for the future of public education. The pandemic, racial injustice, and the chronic inequality and inadequacy of education funding and educational opportunity that 2020 brought to the forefront are undeniable, the report states. Returning to schooling as it was pre-pandemic is neither possible nor acceptable.

It’s up to all of us to outline a path forward for our students, the report concluded. We must act on what we have learned from these crises. Together we can outline a path forward that will lead New York’s schools to a chapter of profound progress.

By Ned Hoskin ned.hoskin@nysut.org

What Future Forward seeks right now

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Many of the recommendations made by NYSUT’s Future Forward Task Force involve state budget requests, legislative proposals and possible regulatory changes. Here’s a rundown:

Funding for community schools — In the next state budget, NYSUT seeks $100 million in new funding to double the number of districts using community schools and to hire directors.

Food and nutrition — NYSUT wants federal legislation to permanently provide universal free meals to all students, including summer and after-school meals. In the meantime, NYSUT calls on New York to set aside funding in the upcoming budget to provide meals not covered by federal dollars.

Child care — NYSUT is pushing for reimbursement reforms to support affordable child care, including expanded access to subsidies and other financial help for low-income and middle-class families.

SEL — NYSUT wants all schools to implement schoolwide social-emotional learning plans that meet student needs and to provide professional learning that suports the needs of students and staff.

Testing — Not all children show mastery through traditional tests. NYSUT supports state regulatory changes to allow alternative methods to meet graduation requirements. On the federally mandated grades 3–8 tests, the union supports changes to the scoring benchmarks to ensure they provide accurate data. The tests should be developmentally appropriate, authentic and shorter.

Receivership and evaluations — Testing also is tied to the punitive receivership law. NYSUT says New York should repeal the receivership law to allow schools to better meet the individual needs of students and preserve a rich learning experience for all kids. Additionally, high-stakes testing should no longer be required to be tied to individual teacher evaluation.

Universal Pre-K — School districts must be able to operate these programs along with communitybased organizations. To that end, NYSUT recommends consolidation of the state’s UPK grant programs into a modified entitlement program that will automatically provide funding to school districts based upon children served in qualified pre-K programs.

Critical staff in schools — NYSUT advocates passing three state legislative bills to help mitigate the ongoing impact of the COVID–19 pandemic. One would require schools to employ at least one full-time social worker and licensed school psychologist (S.1969/A.5019). Another would require schools to employ at least one school guidance counselor (S.831/A.7473). The third would ensure all public school districts and BOCES employ at least one registered professional nurse in each school building (S.4782/A.666).

Racial justice — NYSUT supports SED’s expectations that school districts advance diversity, equity and inclusion. Last year, NYSUT received $1 million in the state budget to provide implicit bias training to 10,000 educators across the state. Doubling this funding ($2 million) in the upcoming budget will expand the program.

Grow Your Own — The 2022–23 state budget should include $500,000 to provide grants to help districts establish educator pipeline initiatives and collaborate with programs engaging students of color. The budget also should include $5 million to expand the Teacher Opportunity Corps and $20 million to fund scholarships to potential educators. NYSUT also seeks $30 million for programs to support career ladders, career changers, fellowships and residency programs. Technology — For many families the lack of in-home computers and reliable, high-speed internet obstructs access to learning and basic services. As part of last year’s budget, the state instituted internet service for all qualifying families at $15 per month, but for many families that is still prohibitive. NYSUT seeks free internet for those who cannot afford it. NYSUT is also pushing a bill (S.3593/A.3912) to ensure students in transitional housing have access to the internet.

Professional development — There are 126 teacher centers across New York that played a critical role in assisting educators and community members transition to learning online. NYSUT advocates restoring teacher center funding to $40 million per year, an investment not seen since the 2007–08 state budget.

Read the full task force report at futureforwardny.org.