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Teacher’s Choice tops UFT needs from Council

UFT President Michael Mulgrew UFT President Michael Mulgrew

UFT President Michael Mulgrew on March 16 urged City Council members to put additional money in next year’s city budget to support the programs that help teachers help students: Community Learning Schools, the Positive Learning Collaborative and Teacher’s Choice.

A significant increase in Teacher’s Choice, which the Council has funded for more than 25 years, topped his list of requests at the annual preliminary budget hearing.

“Many teachers are spending from $500 to $1,000 from their own paychecks to make sure their students have what they need,” he said. “Some schools expect parents to help financially, but many of our inner-city parents cannot afford that.”

Last year, after UFT members participated in an all-out social media and lobbying campaign to restore Teacher’s Choice, the Council boosted its funding so each teacher received $122, up from $77 the previous year, to cover out-of-pocket spending on classroom supplies. A decade ago, Mulgrew noted, the Council’s $20 million commitment to Teacher’s Choice meant $250 for each teacher.

“The city has recovered economically, and we believe that the city can afford to restore Teacher’s Choice to prerecession levels,” he said.

Mulgrew also appealed for $1.5 million in additional Council funding for the union’s 26 Community Learning Schools. With those new funds, he said, “We can hire more resource coordinators, as well as increase academic programming and health services.”

Noting the $5.4 million that the mayor’s preliminary budget includes for restorative justice programs, Mulgrew urged the Council to allocate $1.5 million of that to the Positive Learning Collaborative, a joint DOE-UFT initiative. The Positive Learning Collaborative provides schoolwide training in strategies that avert or defuse behavioral crises in the classroom without interrupting the education of the students who are misbehaving or their peers.

“Suspension rates have dropped dramatically in schools that participate in the PLC,” he said. “And parents say the schools are safer.”

Mulgrew welcomed the Council’s support in two statewide initiatives: lobbying Albany to increase state aid in light of the $2 billion the state owes New York City public schools as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court settlement, and supporting full funding for Teacher Centers.

City Councilman Mark Treyger, a former teacher and UFT delegate at New Utrecht HS, said the Teacher Centers give educators a chance to take stock of what they’re learning. “Educators are not robots; we’re humans and need time to process information and changes,” he said.

The budget hearing began with testimony from Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Council members expressed their concerns to her about services to homeless students, the delivery of free breakfast in the classroom, and teacher training in schools that serve high-need communities.

The chancellor acknowledged “that Breakfast in the Classroom has had a little bit of a rocky start” and promised that those concerns would be addressed before the pilot program was expanded across the city. Fariña also said she was having discussions with teaching colleges about creating a training curriculum specific to high-needs communities.

“We need teacher training in economic, social and cultural issues, and apprenticeships for teachers placed in high-needs schools,” she said.

Read Mulgrew’s full testimony.

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