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Legislative priorities

Safeguard public education

Washington D.C.’s continued onslaught on basic human rights leaves New Yorkers little choice but to protect these critical rights on the state level.

New York’s Democratic majorities in the state Assembly and Senate have shown they are up for the challenge by passing needed reforms — from voter rights and the Reproductive Health Act to the Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act. All accomplished in the opening days of the Albany session. This is government at its best.

The UFT looks to legislative leaders to create similar safeguards for public education. Unlike many states, New York has invested in its public schools, and has seen results from climbing elementary achievement to rising high school graduation rates. We need to continue this investment while directing more funding to our neediest students.

We also must level the playing field with charter schools and demand transparency and accountability from a sector that still enrolls and keeps far fewer high-needs students than traditional public schools, despite demanding an ever-larger share of public dollars.

Our message on charters has not changed — until they agree to a basic level of accountability for how they treat all students and how they use tax dollars, the existing cap should remain in place. In NYC, we must also examine offsetting the increased aid charters receive through allowable rental costs.

End the testing obsession

Teachers and parents across New York the work of the Assembly and the Senate in passing legislation to eliminate the state mandate that state test scores be used in teacher ratings and to return the decision to local school districts and collective bargaining. The legislation, which also deletes the test scores from students’ permanent records, ends a misguided fascination with standardized tests that has hurt students and the teaching profession. We thank the Assembly and Senate for passing this necessary reform. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill; a version of the bill was included in his executive budget proposal in a show of support.

Pay their fair share

Washington D.C. is primed to make further cuts in federal support. Given these fiscal realities, the UFT understands the need to identify new sources of revenue.

The UFT supports the continuation and expansion of the millionaire’s tax, which has protected vital community services by generating more than $4.4 billion annually.

The state has 63 percent more millionaires now than when the idea was adopted in 2009 and New York City is still home to more billionaires than any other city in the country. New York could generate an additional $2.3 billion by increasing the top rate of this tax for those who make $10 million to $100 million a year.

The UFT also supports closing the carried interest loophole that allows hedge fund managers to pay less tax on millions in profits, a change that would generate $3.5 billion in new revenue annually. The UFT also advocates working with New Jersey and Connecticut for a three-state initiative to close the carried interest loophole, rather than a 5-state attempt. The Governor included the extension of the millionaire’s tax and closing the carried interest loophole in his budget proposal.

Fund schools based on need

Across the county, we see children suffering when states defund public education. Los Angeles educators are the latest to say “enough,” and have successfully demanded and won critical resources for their students!

New York City, New York State and the UFT have put in place what the LA teachers just won through a six-day strike and intense contract negotiations. New York began investing in the UFT’s Community Learning Schools Initiative in 2012 to address the social, emotional and physical needs of our students. By bringing critical medical, dental, mental health and enrichment resources into our 31 UFT Community Learning Schools, we are making a difference: test scores are up, attendance is up, incident reports are down and parents are more engaged. But even with these efforts the number of students in need has increased. In New York City, 1 in 10 children is in temporary housing with at least 24,000 sleeping in shelters each night. Across the state, the numbers of vulnerable children — special needs, English language learners and children living in poverty — have risen. Educators need resources and support to address the depth of this need. The UFT therefore calls for a $2.2 billion increase in education funding this budget cycle, a figure in line with recommendations from the state Board of Regents and the Education Conference Board. This funding level will enable the state to shift more funds to the schools with the highest numbers of students in need.

Bolster Teacher Centers

The UFT’s nationally-recognized Teacher Center and teacher centers across the state provide educators with relevant, hands-on, research-based professional learning.

The UFT Teacher Center mentors and strengthens new teachers; helps experienced professionals deepen their knowledge and skills; and identifies educational leaders across diverse communities and empowers them to share their expertise with colleagues.

New York State’s investment allowed the UFT to open six new teacher centers in New York City this past year for a total of 116 in the five boroughs. Each is staffed with experts who work with educators at their sites and surrounding schools. Through this network, the UFT provided professional learning to more than 246,000 participants including teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school staff and parents in New York City last school year.

Teacher centers are designed to meet the specific needs of school communities. A typical example is the new teacher center opened with state funds in Washington Heights this year to help educators meet the needs of English Language learners, 28 percent of the neighborhood’s student population. Using these state funds, the Teacher Center and UFT will be working with educators across Washington Heights to support students who may have social language skills in English but need to acquire fluency in academic English to succeed in school.

We hope funding for the Washington Heights program is renewed and expanded, and we also seek a combined $40 million investment from the Assembly, Senate and Gov. Cuomo to preserve and expand Teacher Centers in New York City and across the state.

Enhance Community Learning Schools

The UFT began its Community Learning Schools Initiative in 2012 to overcome student barriers to learning by providing vital health and human services where they would have the greatest impact on children — inside schools.

With help from the state and city, the UFT now provides additional medical, social and academic services to more than 20,000 students in 31 schools, roughly the size of the Syracuse school district. The UFT leverages this funding by providing each CLS school with a community school director whose sole job is to bring in needed services. The $100,000 in salary and benefits generates, on average, more than $600,000 in new resources. The impact on students is clear: increased academic performance, better attendance, decreased long-term absenteeism, a healthier school climate and increased parent engagement.

With city and state support, the UFT opened two full-service vision centers inside existing school-based health centers. With state help, the UFT is breaking down bureaucratic barriers to allow these two vision centers to serve students in surrounding schools as well as their own. We look forward to working with the NYS Department of Health and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to expand the scope and reach of this cost-saving, effective health care model which will provide primary care, mental health and dental services to these and other schools and school districts.

Vital Brooklyn, which brings fresh, farm-grown New York produce to families and staff, is now in full swing at seven CLS schools located in communities where healthy food alternatives are scarce.

The UFT now hopes to share its CLS expertise through a new project — providing technical support and assistance to schools and districts across New York State seeking to replicate the UFT’s model of Community Learning Schools.

We seek $5 million for the UFT’s Community Learning Schools model. We ask that this funding and the additional funds proposed for community schools statewide be distributed outside the foundation formula, so the Assembly, Senate and governor can better track the results of this investment.

Improve school climate

Recognizing the need to re-think “school discipline,” the UFT and the city’s Department of Education created a program to end schools’ over-reliance on suspensions while building a safe, positive school environment for all children — the Positive Learning Collaborative.

PLC started in the 2012-13 school year and now supports 17 schools with plans to add six more this winter. Suspensions in the first cohort of schools have fallen nearly 82 percent compared to a New York City decrease of 31 percent. Equally important — the violent incidents that can lead to suspension have fallen 54 percent.

All staff members in a building receive intensive training in de-escalation techniques. Support includes strategies to prevent biased-based bullying and promote gender-inclusive schools. PLC has expanded its offerings to empower parents though conversations in these same topics. And as the school climate improved in the first cohort, so did the academics: increases in test scores in these schools met or exceeded New York City gains in ELA and math.

Making this kind of lasting change takes hard work and resources. Legislation that simply eliminates suspensions without providing on-going, schoolwide training and resources is not the solution. PLC and other similar programs are in a position to share best practices and successful techniques with schools across the state. We support the $3 million pilot program outlined in the Gov. Cuomo’s budget to increase the use of alternative approaches to discipline to improve school climate. We are also seeking $1.5 million to expand the UFT’s PLC program to 10-15 additional schools in New York City.

Provide affordable child care

There are over 6,000 New York City home-based child care providers that allow thousands of lowincome New Yorkers to work because they provide high-quality affordable care for children. The more-than 12,000 home-based child care providers statewide provide a tangible economic and social benefit to New York’s families. 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.