The coronavirus pandemic couldn’t stop 430 UFT members from joining the union’s annual Lobby Day on March 12 to advocate for funding for public schools and the union’s own education initiatives in the state budget. This year, instead of hopping on a bus bound for Albany, educators connected with their representatives in the state Legislature via Zoom.
“We had a nice prep time early on and then really had a nice discussion with each of the representatives,” said Ellen Halloran, a 6th-grade English language arts teacher at the Hunters Point Community MS in Queens. “They were attentive and eager to hear what we had to say.”
Vicky Cammarota-Curto, who teaches 5th-graders at PS 180 in Brooklyn, sits on her community board and is experienced working with her neighbors to match public funds to local needs. She said she was proud of what she saw from her fellow UFT members at Lobby Day.
“Each of them spoke so eloquently and gave such detail about specific issues in their own schools,” she said. “It’s really essential that we all, as teachers, participate in some form of political forum.”
UFT members spoke with state legislators about the need for the state to provide New York City public schools with adequate funding after an especially tough year.
“The pandemic has disproportionately affected students of color and immigrants,” said Holli Weiss, a UFT delegate who teaches English language learners at PS 11 in Manhattan. “Being able to have more mental health services and get more money toward academic intervention would greatly benefit my students.”
Rebecca Lopez, a special education teacher at PS/MS 279 in the Bronx, said more school funding would help “level the playing field” for her students. “The vast majority of my students are in shelters,” she said. “Their needs are not just technology; they need books and materials. Basic necessities.”
Cammarota-Curto said her school needed more funding for school psychologists and counselors.
“When we have extra counselors in the building, children don’t have to be referred to outside intervention that parents may or may not be able to pursue,” she said.
New York State’s share of funding for city public schools in 2020 was about 36% — down from an all-time high of about 50% in 2009.
To generate that revenue, UFT members advocated for increasing taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers.
“We need a wealth tax on billionaires and a tax on luxury pied-à-terre apartments,” said Lopez.
Educators also shared the union’s demand for UFT Teacher Center funding, the UFT’s United Community Schools and the Positive Learning Collaborative.
Many of the participants found the virtual nature of this year’s event presented no challenges.
Halloran, who has participated in previous UFT Lobby Days, said, “It seemed almost more intimate on Zoom.”
For Weiss, not having to make a day trip to Albany made participation even easier. “Being online made it accessible,” she said.