In the wake of a new federal tax policy that hurts New York State, the UFT sent more than 1,100 members and public school parents to Albany on March 19 to talk face-to-face with state lawmakers about the need to protect the city’s public schools from Washington, D.C.
The lobbyists-for-a-day boarded buses at dawn and rode three hours to the state capital for the annual UFT Lobby Day to have their say with their representatives before the state Legislature finalizes the state budget, which was due on April 1.
“They get to hear from us what it’s like in the classroom,” said Jasmin Hunt, a teacher at PS 153 in the Bronx. “They get a firsthand perspective from the teachers.”
Hunt said the biggest challenge this year is “the fact that the budget passed at the federal level attacks us.” She urged state lawmakers to show their commitment to public schools by increasing state school aid. “We cannot drop the ball on our kids’ education,” Hunt said.
At the late-morning gathering at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, UFT President Michael Mulgrew thanked the participants for making the trek to Albany.
“You represent all your colleagues back in New York City today,” he said. “I want these elected officials to hear the passion from the folks who have dedicated their lives to teaching our children.”
Mulgrew told state lawmakers the governor’s proposal to increase state school aid by $769 million — including $338 million in foundation aid — was a good starting point, but there was more to do. He said the state should also provide $20 million for Teacher Centers again this year.
To offset the cost of these budget items, he called for a tax on New Yorkers making $5 million or more. “We need more revenue,” he said. “Wealthy New Yorkers are about to get a windfall from the federal tax plan.”
The members also heard from state lawmakers, including Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein, Sen. Marisol Alcantara, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Sen. Brad Hoylman, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan. Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP New York State Conference, spoke as well.
Heastie pledged to do everything he could to protect the city’s public schools from punitive federal policies.
“We’re going to do all we can,” he said, “to keep up our yearly commitment to making sure you have the resources you need.”
Stewart-Cousins and Klein both stressed the need to support the UFT’s community learning schools. “Sometimes the kids you teach need wraparound services,” said Stewart-Cousins.
Klein proposed a college debt-forgiveness program for new teachers. “We have to make sure we have a steady stream of dedicated young people — people who love educating” entering the profession, he said.
In the afternoon, UFT members and parents separated into groups to speak with state elected officials who represent their schools and communities.
Doreen Crinigan of PS 48 in Brooklyn said she found a “very positive” reception from her representatives.
“We spoke to them about Teacher Centers and the need to fund more of them,” she said. “And the need for money for public schools rather than charters.”
In addition to pressing their representatives for more school funding, some members took the opportunity to touch on issues in their own schools or close to their own hearts, including charter school co-locations and school safety amid a national epidemic of gun violence.
Bernadette Alexander, from PS 204 in the Bronx, said she had worried that teachers’ voices “might get pushed aside in the bigger picture.” She credited the UFT for providing an effective vehicle for conveying teachers’ views because “the union builds our voices.”
Mindy Rosier, a teacher at PS 811 in Manhattan, said the time and effort were worth it. “I truly believe that when legislators hear our stories and listen to our requests in person, we do, in fact, make an impact on the decision-making of that legislator,” she said.
“Advocating for our children has to extend beyond just our classroom, and I’m proud to be a part of Lobby Day every year.”