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A week of virtual advocacy

Members press for state aid for UFT initiatives
New York Teacher
ZOOM Screen

Bronx UFT members meet online with state Assembly Member Michael Benedetto (second row, right), the chair of the Assembly Education Committee, on March 8 as part of the UFT’s week of advocacy.

The UFT connected its members with their state representatives in online meetings from March 7 to 11 to champion the union’s proven programs — including the United Community Schools initiative, the UFT Teacher Center and the Positive Learning Collaborative — during a week of advocacy for New York City public schools.

“How do we start putting the supports in place to move our children to a better place after all the damage from the pandemic?” UFT President Michael Mulgrew asked the participants at a kickoff reception on March 9. “It’s the money, it’s the policy, but overall it’s about how we set up our school system to help so many children who’ve been harmed.”

The reception featured elected officials including state Attorney General Letitia James, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, New York City Education Committee Chair and state Sen. John Liu, Senate Education Committee Chair Shelley Mayer and Assembly Education Committee Chair Michael Benedetto.

The online meetings replaced the union’s traditional Lobby Day in Albany due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The union made the push three weeks before the April 1 deadline for state lawmakers to finalize the coming year’s budget.

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UFT President Michael Mulgrew (bottom row, right), NYSUT President Andrew Pallotta (middle row, left) and UFT officers are joined at the virtual advocacy week kickoff on March 7 by state senators John Liu (middle row, right) and Shelley Mayer (bottom row, second from left) and Assembly Member Michael Benedetto (bottom row, left).

Librarian Marie Baker of MS/HS 368 in the Bronx asked that career and technical education be extended to 9th-graders at a meeting on March 8 with Assembly Member Benedetto, a former UFT member. “My school has 201 9th-graders, many of whom are behind because of the pandemic,” said Baker. “They need CTE training. Waiting until the 10th grade would be too late; four continuous years would benefit them tremendously.”

UFT members also sounded the alarm about students, teachers and school communities still recovering from the pandemic.

“We’re having educators, students and parents hurting socially and emotionally,” said Karlene Turner, a UFT chapter leader at IS 144 in the Bronx.

Turner attended an online meeting with her representative, Assembly Member Nathalia Fernandez, on March 9. She asked Fernandez to support the Positive Learning Collaborative, a partnership between the UFT and the city Department of Education that works to improve school culture and eliminate inequality in the classroom. The UFT was asking for a $2 million grant from the state to sustain the program. “The thing that’s helping students right now is the Positive Learning Collaborative,” said Turner. “Students are more socially adjusted, and we have more of them graduating.”

The union was seeking $100 million for community schools statewide, including a $4 million grant to sustain the current network of community schools in New York City. The union was also asking the Legislature to match the governor’s $14 million commitment to the UFT Teacher Center to provide $28 million in funding for that program.

Another UFT priority was preventing charter schools from cannibalizing resources from public schools while requiring charters to be transparent. The union and its members asked elected officials to halt the use of public funds to pay charter schools’ rent, give the state Board of Regents sole authority to approve charters and allow the state comptroller to conduct financial audits of New York City charter schools.

“This year’s executive budget is proposing school facilities aid of $100 million to charter schools,” said Stephen Swieciki, the UFT chapter leader at Herbert H. Lehman HS in the Bronx, at the meeting with Benedetto. “If this is approved, these funds will become available to an industry that is continually undermining state regulators and exploiting students.”

Supporting child care providers was on the agenda as well. The UFT asked legislators to pass the Universal Child Care Act, back the governor’s proposed expansion of subsidized child care seats, increase the market-rate payment for providers and, eventually, make a transition away from the market model to pay providers for the true costs of care.