With public education at risk from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ privatization agenda, more than 800 UFT members and public school parents journeyed to Albany to call on state lawmakers to protect and support New York City public schools.
After a snowstorm postponed the union’s originally scheduled Lobby Day on March 14, UFT member lobbyists boarded buses at dawn on March 27 for a three-hour ride to the state capital five days before the April 1 budget deadline as negotiations became more intense. Senate Republicans were pushing proposals to eliminate the charter school cap and send hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to charter coffers at the expense of New York City public schools.
UFT members were advocating for a large increase in foundation aid. To secure future education funding, they urged lawmakers to extend the millionaire’s tax and adjust the brackets for the top 1 percent — a change that would generate an additional $5.6 billion per year in tax revenue. Teacher Centers were another hot topic, with the UFT asking the state Legislature for $40 million to restore lost funding and expand the program. Also on the agenda was state aid for the UFT’s 28 Community Learning Schools. [See story on the final budget.]
UFT President Michael Mulgrew kicked off the day by rallying the crowd against the enemies of public education. “We will not let them defund, destabilize and destroy our public schools,” he said, speaking from the stage at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.
Mulgrew said he was “perplexed” that so many upstate Republican senators — many who receive contributions from the charter industry — took so much interest in creating “more free space in New York City public schools” for charter chains.
“Maybe they should stand up in their districts and say, ‘Our priority is charter schools in New York City, not you,’” he suggested.
Addressing the crowd, State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie pledged his house of the Legislature would defend public schools in the budget negotiations. “Charter schools remain a priority to the Senate,” Heastie said. “Our priority remains, and always will be, public schools.”
This year, lawmakers visited the member lobbyists at the convention center instead of receiving them in the Legislative Office Building. For Margaret Dalton-Diakite, a paraprofessional at PS 154 in Manhattan, the change was a positive one. “They come to our table,” she said. “It’s more personal.”
As state legislators entered the crowded room, they quickly became the centers of huddles of UFT members and parents eager to speak with their representatives and urge them to protect New York City’s public schools from DeVos’ efforts to defund and privatize public schools.
“The voucher system scares me to death,” said Lynn Harrison, an 8th-grade English language arts teacher at the East Fordham Academy for the Arts in the Bronx. Harrison said a voucher program would cause a “financial drain” from public schools. She also spoke to her Assembly member about the “clear lack of transparency” for charter schools.
“You have these really well-off charter school networks” pushing for taxpayer funding, Harrison said. “It’s really important for the public to know what’s what” when it comes to their finances.
Roko Markolovic, a teacher at the Bronx HS of Computers and Technology, summed up why the event was so important. “The representatives need to hear from the teachers, those of us in contact with students every day,” he said.