President's perspective

Our three priorities

mulgrew.jpgMichael Mulgrew, UFT President As we approach the end of the school year, I want to thank you for all that you have done for your students, schools, profession and union this year. It has been a difficult year of difficult fights but we have persevered. Congratulations on the raises you earned this year as part of our new contract — you deserve them.

Although the end is in sight, we still have much to do before the end of the school year, the end of the legislative session in Albany and the adoption of the final city budget for the next fiscal year.

We have three priorities: We must restore Teacher’s Choice to its pre-recession value, and we must stop the governor and the Republicans in the state Legislature from raising the charter cap and introducing a misguided education tax credit.

In the wake of our successful Fight Cuomo campaign on social media, our union will be calling on you to take action on all three of these priorities on Facebook and Twitter as well as by reaching out personally to your elected representatives.

Teacher’s Choice is an invaluable program that helps students by giving teachers the freedom to purchase their own materials. Unfortunately, as a result of the 2008 recession, the amount of money given to teachers to buy classroom supplies has declined from $220 to $77 per year.

Teacher’s Choice was seen as an extra during the recession. In fact, it’s an indispensable investment in classroom learning.

The recession is now over. And thanks to your advocacy, the city has the most state education aid it has received in eight years. The time is now for the mayor and the City Council to restore Teacher’s Choice.

There is no doubt about the impact that Teacher’s Choice has on our students and schools.

Just ask Charlene Johnson, a pre-K teacher at PS 64 in the East Village. Charlene spent part of her Teacher’s Choice funding to buy a caterpillar for each of her students so that they could see the metamorphosis of butterflies as part of their reading unit on animals and insects. Students’ enthusiasm shot through the roof and their on-time attendance improved.

You can read Charlene’s full story and those of five other educators on our Teacher’s Choice campaign page at action.uft.org/restore-teachers-choice. I hope you will help us spread their stories on social media and share your own story of how you have used Teacher’s Choice in the past and what you would do if full funding is restored in the future. Remember to use the hashtag #RestoreTeachersChoice on Twitter and to tweet at your Council member using his or her Twitter handle.

At the same time that we fight to restore Teacher’s Choice in the city budget, we must continue our fight in Albany to stop Gov. Cuomo’s plans to increase the cap on the number of charter schools in the state and to introduce an education tax credit that is a giveaway to his hedge-fund friends who bankroll his campaigns.

Cuomo had wanted to include both of these measures in the state budget, but we were able to pull them out of the budget process and now we must continue our fight to stop them.

We must make sure that the state legislators who oppose the governor know we have their backs and remind those who support him that they are on the wrong side of the issues.

Corporate charter schools pose a profound threat to public education. The effort by the governor and his fat-cat donors to lift the statewide cap on charters is nothing short of an attempt to privatize our school system.

Instead, Albany needs to keep the current cap and pass legislation that will require charters to educate all children and abide by the same rules and standards as district schools. We can persuade state lawmakers to do the right thing, but we’ll need your help.

That’s why I am asking each of you to visit our campaign page at www.uft.org/keep-public-ed-public and sign up for the campaign, sign our petition and tweet about the need to keep the charter cap using the hashtags #EducateAllKids and #KeepPublicEdPublic. Sample tweets that you can click to share are available on the website.

Finally, we are also fighting in Albany to stop the governor’s education tax credit — a poorly disguised voucher program — from moving forward. The tax credit is nothing more than a gift to his big campaign donors for whom it seems he will say or do anything.

The Albany Times-Union described Cuomo’s plan in a blistering May 19 editorial as “a public-private partnership of the worst sort — the public pays the tab, private schools and wealthy donors reap the benefits.”

So how much is that tab we’ll be paying?

Although he still owes our students more than $5 billion under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, Cuomo has somehow found $450 million to fund the education tax credit in the first three years.

That money belongs to the public, and it should stay in public hands. Instead of going to charter and private schools, it should be spent to improve our state’s public schools.

New York State voters certainly don’t agree with the governor. Just 37 percent of them approve of the job Cuomo is doing, according to a May 12 poll by The Wall Street Journal, NBC 4 New York and Marist College. Yet he continues to push his unpopular education policies.

Some people just never learn — and our governor is one of them.

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