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president's perspective

New year, new challenges

New York Teacher

Welcome back. I hope the summer break gave you a chance to relax and re-energize. The year ahead offers much to celebrate, but also some very serious challenges.

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Michael Mulgrew Headshot

Michael Mulgrew

We are heading into the new school year on solid financial footing from the city and state, thanks to our union’s advocacy in the budget process last spring. Teacher’s Choice got a big boost in the city budget.

Funding increases in the city and state budgets will also enable us to do more of the innovative programming that gives educators a voice in schools and addresses issues that can be a barrier to learning. We are positioned to expand the number of community learning schools, PROSE schools and the Positive Learning Collaborative, which uses a restorative justice approach that has already resulted in a drop in suspensions and calmer classrooms in participating schools.

Meanwhile, New York City schools continue to make real progress, as rising test scores and increasing graduation rates show.

But I don’t want to sugarcoat it. We face strong headwinds as public school educators and unionized workers.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continues her efforts to push school privatization under the guise of “school choice.” She is defending a federal spending plan that will do great harm to public schools and children from low-income families — taking an axe to federal funds that support after-school programs, teacher training, career and technical education and programs that make college more affordable.

It’s all part of how DeVos and her privatizing army are laying the groundwork for more charter schools and vouchers. We will continue to work with our elected officials in Washington, D.C., to preserve federal funding and to pull back the curtain on her agenda that values the marketplace over children.

Basic workers’ rights across this country are also under grave threat. Corporations and the ultra-rich are trying to take down unions, the one force in this country that has been fighting for the middle class. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Janus v. AFSCME case brought by these union busters. The case challenges the “fair share” fees that public sector unions collect from workers who benefit from a union-negotiated contract but do not join the union.

With the addition of Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s appointee, the Supreme Court is expected to rule against unions. We’ll have to stay united as union members if we are going to withstand this threat.

In New York State, a high-stakes vote will occur on Nov. 7.

New Yorkers will be asked if the state should hold a constitutional convention. We must continue to inform friends and family members about the critical importance of voting “no” on that ballot question. A state constitutional convention would put public employee pensions in jeopardy and would be dominated by the same political interests entrenched in Albany now.

We are also opposing a proposal from the SUNY Charter Schools Committee that would allow a person with only five days of instruction and 100 hours of classroom practice to become a licensed teacher in some charter schools. Such “instant” teaching licenses would not only harm the children in charter schools, but do significant damage to the teaching profession as a whole.

As we return to our classrooms, we will also have to deal with issues like the confrontation this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. Here’s what I tell people who ask: Education includes teaching our students the basic values of tolerance, respect, hard work and the rights and responsibilities that go hand in hand in a civil society.

Our students depend on us as a stable force for good in their lives. That role has never been more important.

Let’s get to work. I hope you have a great opening to the school year.