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Bracing for an assault on public schools

New York Teacher

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (right) makes a point during a discussion with Cit
Maria Bastone
UFT President Michael Mulgrew (right) makes a point during a discussion with City Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez (left) and Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Education Committee, during the UFT Legislative Reception.

When the UFT planned a gathering of state and city lawmakers at union headquarters for two weeks after Election Day, the goal was to discuss the road ahead for education policy and legislation in New York once all the stakeholders were free from the demands of campaign season. But by the day of the event, the ground had shifted dramatically: Republicans will control all three branches of the federal government, and public schools may now face a full-scale assault.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew warned that national education policy could grow to resemble the policy that Vice President-elect Michael Pence has enacted in his home state of Indiana, “which has been a nightmare for its residents.”

Under Pence as governor, Mulgrew said, the state has launched “a full push toward privatization.” Pence oversaw a dramatic expansion of the state’s private-school voucher program — both low- and middle-income families are eligible, unlike in most other states — and a big boost in funding for charter schools.

More than 60 elected officials and their staff attended the morning gathering on Nov. 22.

Mulgrew told them that the UFT’s legislative priorities at the state and local level have grown more pressing in light of the new federal context. He said school funding remains a major issue. The union is calling on the governor and the state Legislature to provide the $3.9 billion in foundation aid that state schools are owed as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court settlement. Mulgrew said Albany should pay out the full sum over the next two years; if the payment of the money owed is stretched out over a longer period, he said, the resulting “dribs and drabs” would fail to provide the needed relief for public schools.

But what’s accomplished in Albany is only the beginning, he said. Mulgrew asked members of the New York City Council to work with the city’s Department of Education to ensure proper follow-through.

Mulgrew noted that the election’s impact on public schools goes beyond education policy. He cited incidents in New York City public schools when immigrant students were told by other students to “go home.” “As educators, we believe it’s our responsibility to teach students that that’s not acceptable,” he said.

“There’s a reason why we have that very tall lady in the harbor,” he continued. The message to immigrant students, he said, should always be: “We want you here. We will take care of you and in the end, you are our strength.”