Persuading lawmakers to oppose the governor’s proposal to substantially increase the number of charter schools operating in New York City topped the agenda for the nearly 900 UFT members and public school parents who traveled to Albany on March 13 for the union’s annual Lobby Day.
“We are standing with parents and communities to call for the rejection of the governor’s 2023 charter school proposals and to ensure our students get the resources they need and deserve,” said Janella Hinds, the UFT vice president for academic high schools. “The fight for fair funding and support for New York City’s public schools and the students we serve hasn’t been easy, but UFT members are up for the challenge.”
Union members boarded buses early Monday morning from locations around the city and rode about three hours to the state capitol to have their say with lawmakers before the Legislature and the governor reached agreement on a final state budget. It was the first time since 2019 that the union was able to hold an in-person event.
In face-to-face meetings, UFT members called on their state representatives to pass a final budget that contains the 4.8% increase in state funding for schools in the governor’s preliminary budget. Members also pushed for other elements of the union’s legislative agenda: Tier 6 pension reform, expanded career and technical education programs in New York City schools, and more state funding for three successful UFT education programs: United Community Schools, the Positive Learning Collaborative and the UFT Teacher Center.
Before fanning out to visit their local elected officials, the member lobbyists first heard from union and legislative leaders in Convention Hall.
“We’re going to make sure that all of our wonderful elected officials know what really is happening inside of schools and what we need and what we don’t need,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
Among those also addressing the group were New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Assembly Education Committee Chairman Michael Benedetto and Senate Education Chairwoman Shelley Mayer.
Mayer voiced her opposition to more charters. “We have a responsibility to make sure every public school is fully funded for every child and that’s why we are rejecting the governor’s proposals on charters,” she said.
Petria May, an English teacher at Beacon HS in Manhattan, said her group focused on the equity issue when speaking with lawmakers. “We have so many needs in straight public schools that it seems unfair, especially at this time, to be taking money from our schools” to give to charter schools, she said.
Brooklyn District 17 representative Rick King and about a dozen other members from his district encircled Assembly Member Brian Cunningham, who has expressed support for charters, to talk to him about how charters take away space and drain resources from public school students. King, who was Cunningham’s 6th-grade social studies teacher, said the lawmaker listened attentively to them. “He heard what we said. Was he responsive? Time will tell,” King said.
Nick Marrone, the chapter leader at Bushwick Leaders HS for Academic Excellence in Brooklyn, was in a group that spoke about charters with Assembly Member Maritza Davila of Brooklyn. He said he is glad members had the opportunity to speak directly with Davila. “She seemed like a potential ally but not someone who I think is clearly in our camp all the time,” he said.
IS 61 Chapter Leader Patricia Mezzacappa said her contingent of Staten Island members also extolled the benefits of UFT Teacher Centers.
The pedagogical support provided by Teacher Centers embedded in schools is particularly useful for new teachers, she said. And since Teacher Centers are an approved state provider of CTLE hours, Mezzacappa added, “they are really the only place where our teachers can get the credits that we need” in the workplace.
Jacqueline Gilchrist, the community school director at PS 14 in the Bronx, one of the UFT’s United Community Schools, said she spoke to legislators about the importance of funding the program. She told lawmakers that her school’s pantry, for instance, fed 81 school families in February.
Jessica Finnerty, the chapter leader at PS 316 in Ozone Park, Queens, said she attended Lobby Day for the first time this year because she wanted to see how members’ Committee on Public Education (COPE) contributions are put to use. Her group of District 27 members spoke with their state Assembly member about charter schools and the need for more career and technical education programs in New York City schools.
“I was very proud to be representing the UFT and getting out there and talking,” Finnerty said. “I wish more people had the opportunity to do it.”