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Protect public education
New York State, along with other progressive blue states, is clearly in Washington D.C.’s crosshairs. The new tax legislation gives corporations and billionaires huge tax breaks while squeezing ordinary New Yorkers with what amounts to a 25 percent increase in income and property taxes.
On top of that, vital federal support for the state’s health care network is under attack with immediate cuts that balloon to an estimated $5 billion loss for New York in the coming years. Almost a third of the state’s budget comes from federal dollars so our state’s exposure is significant.
Given this onslaught, it becomes all the more important for our elected officials to commit to protecting the gains made by their consistent investment in public education. These investments have born real results, with the high school graduation rates at their highest ever in New York City and across the state; with the creation of expanded pre-k and early literacy programs; and with rising elementary achievement rates.
Now is not the time to lessen New York’s commitment to public schools. There are too many examples of what happens when legislators turn their backs on this vital institution, such as U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ home state of Michigan.
Any efforts to protect public schools must also include increased transparency and accountability in the state’s charter school sector, from how it spends millions of dollars in private donations to ensuring high-needs students succeed and are not “counseled out” during their school careers.
The charter sector has fought such efforts to be held accountable. Until it is, the UFT opposes increased rental aid for charter schools or increased access to co-located space in public schools; opposes any increase in the charter cap or increases to the charter school tuition formula; and asks the Legislature and governor to fix the out-year supplemental funding for charters so additional resources are not drained from financially struggling traditional public schools.
Generate needed revenue
With New York State facing a $4.4 billion deficit this budget year and dire news coming from the federal government, the UFT recognizes the need for all stakeholders to work together to find new revenue sources.
The new federal tax law will cost New Yorkers an additional $14.3 billion per year, a change that simply worsens the existing imbalance — New York State already sends $48 billion more to Washington D.C. than it gets back in federal dollars.
The governor has made several revenue proposals to insulate New York, claw back some of the money we send to Washington and protect the state’s economy.
The UFT has long advocated that New York State and the federal government close the “carried interest” loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay lower taxes on millions in profits. The governor’s proposed “Fairness Fix” addresses this inequity in a way that would bring in $1.1 billion in new revenue. We stand ready to help the governor in his efforts to make similar legislation a reality in Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania so hedge fund managers can’t simply shift profits across state lines.
The UFT is pleased the governor is looking for ways to protect New Yorkers and public services from the ravages of Washington’s new policies.
The UFT would like to gain greater insight into the governor’s idea of an income tax payroll tax swap and his proposal to create charitable organizations to fund public services.
Increase school aid
During times of economic stress, it is all too easy for governments to try to slash their way out of an economic crisis.
The state of Kansas provided one of the most prominent examples of this mistake when it tried to stimulate its economy in 2012 with massive tax cuts that instead crippled its economy and slowed its growth.
The UFT is encouraged that New York State is not making a similar mistake.
Even under today’s grim fiscal realities, the executive budget continues to invest in its core mission of public education by proposing an additional $769 million for education, including a $338 million in foundation aid, for a 3% overall increase.
The UFT supports the governor’s goal of sending more funds to the highest-need districts and schools, as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision said New York State should do. The UFT supports the position that New York needs to invest a total of $1.5 billion in school aid to maintain the current level of services, as outlined by the New York State Educational Conference Board.
Empower Teacher Centers
New York City’s award-winning Teacher Centers, and the Teacher Centers across the state, were able to provide more high-quality professional learning to more educators this past year because of the $14 million investment from the state Assembly. The Assembly’s support over the years has kept these vital centers in operation. The UFT appreciates the governor adding an additional $5 million to the centers last year.
In New York City, these additional funds allowed UFT Teacher Centers to offer professional development to more than 217,000 educators, administrators and school aides last school year. They enabled the UFT to provide more professional development in high-need areas like science and math and for English language learners; and to provide additional support for paraprofessionals, aides who work in the classrooms and with individual special-needs students.
The extra funding in New York City is also supporting the governor’s Vital Brooklyn initiative, where the UFT is working with Agriculture in the Classroom to create a model curriculum for New York State that links farmer’s markets with lessons in nutrition, biology, earth science and environmental conservation.
The UFT is therefore disappointed that the governor’s executive budget did not continue its $5 million investment. With the financial stress school districts are likely to face, a stable source of high-quality professional development is crucial if New York is to maintain its educational momentum.
Teacher Centers would also be ideally suited to provide the computer science and engineering professional development the governor proposed in his new $6 million educational investment.
Given this success, The UFT is asking the governor and state Assembly to maintain the roughly $20 million for Teacher Centers statewide as part of New York’s commitment to public education.
Enhance community-based programs
We applaud the governor’s continued investment of $200 million statewide in Community Schools, with the additional $50 million earmarked for districts struggling with growing numbers of high-needs students, whether English language learners or homeless students. Increasing the minimum grant award for Community Schools from $10,000 to $75,000 also ensures more meaningful work can be done by each district, and will provide more students with common sense, wraparound services.
UFT Community Learning Schools
The UFT seeks to expand its own Community Learning Schools Initiative, which it began in 2012 with help from the New York City Council, the Partnership for New York City, Trinity Wall Street, state Senate leader Jeff Klein and the Independent Democratic Conference.
The UFT initiative now has 29 schools where vital medical, social and mental health services are integrated into the school day to the benefit of more than 18,000 students and their families. With state help, the UFT Community Learning Schools Initiative also hopes to open this year two vision clinics in their school-based health centers. We are pleased to see the funding for these school-based centers was not cut. We seek to maintain Medicaid reimbursements and make sure the health centers serve all children in the neighborhood, not just the students in the schools where they are located.
Students are thriving in our UFT Community Learning Schools, so we respectfully ask for $5 million to hire additional community school directors, maintain high-quality services and add new schools to the initiative.
Positive Learning Collaborative
The UFT teamed up with New York City’s Department of Education to create a restorative practices program, known as the Positive Learning Collaborative (PLC). This program provides intensive training in crisis intervention and prevention for all staff in a school building.
Nineteen schools are now using these techniques with clear results: a reduction in school suspensions and violent incidents and an improvement in school climate. Dozens of New York City schools are on a waiting list to join the program.
A way to expand the successful PLC program would be to allow New York City schools to join with grants from either the governor’s $250,000 community school proposal to enhance school climate, combat bullying and school violence, or the governor’s $1.5 million gang violence prevention program.
Support families with affordable child care
New York City’s 15,000 home-based child care providers allow thousands of low-income New Yorkers to work because they provide high-quality affordable care for their children. The more than 40,000 home-based child care providers statewide provide a tangible economic and social benefit to New York’s families.
We thank the governor for restoring $7 million in child care funding.
The UFT supports preserving and, if possible, increasing the number of child care slots and is in favor of the state providing resources to pay for federal mandates. Our providers deserve additional compensation for the vital work they do.
Expand authentic measures of student learning
New York City’s teacher evaluation system gives schools choices about the kinds of assessments that can be used in teacher evaluation, including essays and other ways that students can demonstrate their skill. We also give schools choices about how to measure student growth. We know our system is more responsive to the needs of individual schools and their students. It is a model that moves away from one-size-fits-all systems mandated by the state. We believe that New York City’s approach could be a model statewide. The UFT believes we need to avoid a return of the testing craze that gripped New York for too many years.