President's perspective

A great state budget

Michael Mulgrew - 155 x 230 Our political work and lobbying in Albany have paid off: Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature reached a budget agreement on April 2 that is the best we have had for our schools in a decade. I cannot thank you enough for all of your trips to Albany and to your state legislators’ district offices to drive home to them the importance of funding our city’s public schools and other programs and services on which our communities depend. This is your victory; we would not have achieved this budget without your efforts.

I also want to thank Gov. Cuomo and the members of the state Legislature who supported us in fighting for a more progressive budget with adequate education funding for our city and state. We have done a comparison, and the state budget they passed in Albany is the most progressive state budget of any in the country. It really is an amazing and impressive budget, and it makes me proud to be a New Yorker.

Under Gov. Cuomo’s leadership, we were able to work with many of our friends to push for marriage equality at the end of the last legislative session. But in this session alone, we’ve been able to hammer out a gun-control bill, increase the minimum wage, extend the millionaire’s tax, introduce a new career ladder program for teachers and invest in both the development of Community Learning Schools and an expansion of full-day prekindergarten. It’s all great stuff, and it’s the result of your advocacy in Albany and our partnership with Gov. Cuomo.

After years of austerity, the aid our schools will receive is a real shot in the arm. School aid statewide will increase by 4.9 percent, or about $1 billion, with almost $320 million of that going to the city’s schools. That’s over $100 million more for New York City schools than the governor had laid out in his proposed budget earlier in the year.

The budget deal also extends the millionaire’s tax, which was due to expire in 2014. Our union fought hard to win the millionaire’s tax because, at a time when income inequality is skyrocketing in our city and public services for poor and working people are being pared back, it is more important than ever that the wealthiest New Yorkers pay their fair share in taxes. A surcharge on the wealthiest among us, the tax is a critical source of revenue, bringing in $2 billion a year. It has been extended for another three years.

We’ve also won critical funding for our UFT Teacher Centers, which are probably the only real mechanism that teachers have for support in the classroom. They’ll receive $14.2 million, more than they have in any year since the 2008 recession. The DOE doesn’t support teachers, we do. But it takes money, which is why we’re so pleased with the funds earmarked for the Teacher Centers.

The agreement also includes expanded funding — $25 million — for full-day prekindergarten in high-needs school districts, $15 million for our Community Learning Schools Initiative and a long-overdue increase to the state’s minimum wage, which will strengthen our economy, help the families of our students and benefit all of New York’s working people by raising the overall wage floor.

Unfortunately, the agreement does not restore the $250 million taken from this year’s city school aid after Mayor Bloomberg refused to come to agreement with us on a new teacher evaluation system in January, and it cuts $90 million from nonprofits that work with the developmentally disabled, including United Cerebral Palsy of New York City, whose workers are members of the UFT. The Dream Fund, which would help undocumented youth pay for college, did not pass, but we intend to continue fighting for it in the next session.

While we may not have gotten everything we wanted in the budget, it is still a great budget. It just goes to show the importance of lobbying. It makes a difference when you lobby. And it makes an even greater difference when you’re lobbying politicians whom you helped elect in the first place. It all goes back to politics.

Again, this victory would not have been possible without your hard work. You have helped bring critically needed resources to our students, their families and our schools, and you should be proud of what you have accomplished. Some 1,200 of you, joined by hundreds of parents, traveled to Albany for our annual Lobby Day on March 6, where you made your case eloquently and forcefully. Many legislators told me how impressed they were by the passion and strength of your arguments.

On behalf of our students, their families and our entire union, I thank all of you for making this budget a reality.

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