Yelyzaveta Kalinichenko, a special education teacher at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and 13 fellow educators from District 3 squeezed into the office of state Sen. Liz Krueger to appeal for more state funding for New York City public schools.
Speaking of the lack of extras at her school in Harlem, Kalinichenko, a second-year teacher, told the senator’s legislative director that she spent more than $2,000 of her own money this year to help fill the gaps.
“We need extra help. We need extra support,” she said. She said students are jammed into classrooms and her school can’t afford an additional special education teacher to service all the students with special needs.
Kalinichenko was among the more than 1,000 UFT members who descended upon Albany on March 9 to advocate for the city’s public schools. Armed with briefing materials, the union activists boarded buses at 7 a.m. from locations in the five boroughs for a full day of lobbying in the state capital.
“I need you to bring your experiences from every day inside of that building to the elected officials you are meeting with,” President Michael Mulgrew told the members as they assembled at the Albany Convention Center before fanning out to visit their state representatives in the afternoon. “You are representing 110,000 people who are back in New York City right now, inside their schools.”
Greeting the member-lobbyists, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie asked them to consider the sea change in Albany this year in contrast to last year, when the union was in an all-out battle with the governor over his education proposals.
Sen. Jeff Klein, the Independent Democratic Conference leader, received applause from UFT members when he said, “We as a state have an obligation to meet our constitutional, governmental and political obligations to properly fund public education.”
The other lawmakers who spoke at the Convention Center were Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate minority leader; Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who heads the Assembly education committee; and Sen. John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader.
In their meetings with lawmakers, UFT members advocated for a substantial state funding increase, noting that Albany still owes New York City public schools $2 billion as a result of the 2016 settlement of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity school aid lawsuit. They also pushed for the full restoration of Teacher Center funding and more state aid to allow for the expansion of the UFT’s Community Learning School Initiative and the Positive Learning Collaborative, a joint UFT-Department of Education program to create safe and supportive learning environments by providing educators with strategies to respond to challenging student behavior. They also called on lawmakers to require that charter schools enroll as many English language learners, students with disabilities and homeless children as district schools do.
Barbara McClung, a science teacher at PS/MS 184 in Manhattan, said she decided to participate again this year because “I think it’s a great opportunity for you to get your voice heard in Albany.”
The 200 parents who traveled with UFT members to Albany that day added their voices to the call for more state funding for schools.
“The voice of parents empowers our children,” said Elzora Cleveland, a mayoral appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy and a parent of an 11th-grader. “They know there are people who care about them.”
At the end of the day, UFT member-lobbyists, optimistic but tired, headed back to buses for the long journey home.
Angela Morgan, a teacher at PS 50 in Queens, said she felt state lawmakers were receptive to the point of view of public school educators this year.
“Last year, there was a lot of noise surrounding Albany,” she said. “This year our voices were heard.”
For her, the decreased tension provided an opening for UFT members to make a strong appeal for more financial support for schools.
“Funding is important because we need smaller class sizes and more teachers,” she said. “Teachers need more programs to help students become better learners. That’s the goal.”