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People power

New York Teacher

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Michael Mulgrew
Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have billionaire friends, but we have something his money can never buy: people power.

Our union is 200,000-strong and growing, and we have the support of tens of thousands more parents, students and community members who believe that all children have the right to a high-quality public education.

Thousands of educators have now invited Cuomo to visit their schools and see what real education is all about — but he hasn’t come. He may not be in class with us, but we’re still going to teach him a lesson. It’s a lesson in civics: Gov. Cuomo, we live in a democracy. You cannot rule by fiat.

Our message is simple: The governor must fairly fund our city’s and state’s public schools. Everything else is a distraction. Thanks to your support, that message is reaching the public and penetrating the halls in Albany. Keep it coming!

Our campaign to fight Cuomo is one of the largest grassroots mobilizations the UFT has ever undertaken. Thousands of teachers and parents have attended 11 forums across the five boroughs to rally, strategize and discuss how Cuomo’s policies would hurt our kids. Hundreds of parent leaders have gathered in meetings at union headquarters to plan coordinated actions with teachers.

On Valentine’s Day, we sent parents and teachers to Albany to speak with elected officials and tell them that Cuomo’s attacks on schools are breaking our children’s hearts. And on March 4, another 1,100 traveled to Albany for our annual Lobby Day with a clear and unequivocal message: State lawmakers must stand up to the governor.

We have also distributed more than 40,000 postcards for educators and parents to send to the governor and legislators. On social media, you’ve sent 65,000 tweets using the hashtag #AllKidsNeed to let the governor know what your students need to succeed and 23,000 tweets using the hashtag #InviteCuomo to invite him to come to your classroom and see for himself.

But that’s just the beginning.

On March 9, we will launch a week of action to defend public education, and I am asking each of you to participate by remaining active on social media and organizing activities at your schools that will help spread our message to parents and in the community: The governor must fairly fund all schools.

The highlight of the week will be March 12, when school communities across the city will join hands in front of or around their school buildings to show that we stand together to protect our schools against Cuomo’s attacks.

On Saturday, March 28, we will hold a citywide rally to tell Cuomo: Fund our schools!

On social media, I hope you will use the new tool we’ve developed, www.howmuchnysrobbed.nyc, which allows you to look up how much money your individual school would receive if Gov. Cuomo followed the law and released the $2.5 billion he owes New York City public schools as part of the resolution of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. Instead of letting schools use the money to support students and teachers, Cuomo is sitting on it.

That’s why I’m asking each of you to visit the website, look up how much your school is owed and then tell Gov. Cuomo how you would spend it using the Twitter hashtag #MySchoolNeeds.

Greg Heddell, an earth science teacher at the Bronx Academy of Health Careers, knows exactly how he would spend his school’s $1.2 million: on a working lab and a lab technician to keep it stocked.

Matthew Jones, the chapter leader at Luisa Dessus Cruz MS in the Bronx, owed $1.6 million, says he would build a computer lab to support his school’s blended-learning initiative.

And Michele Weintraub, at the Globe School in the same borough, said she’d spend her school’s $800,000 on more special education teachers — including a co-teacher for her integrated co-teaching class.

Some teachers I’ve spoken to would buy textbooks or art supplies or whiteboards and markers. Others want new books for their classroom libraries. Still others would use their schools’ money to put a computer in each classroom, to revive canceled after-school programs or to implement programs for parents and the surrounding community.

These are real needs — expressed by real educators. Now it’s your turn: How would you use the money Gov. Cuomo is withholding from your school to help your students?

If you or any of your colleagues have skills with video, you can also follow the example of UFT members at IS 228, the David A. Boody JHS in Bensonhurst, who produced a video inviting Gov. Cuomo to visit their school and see up close their work with students. Send the YouTube links to your videos to uftphotos@gmail.com, and we will share them over social media.

With less than a month left until the state budget is due on April 1, we are in a critical phase of our campaign. The future of our city’s schools — and of our children — hangs in the balance.

After a dozen years of Mayor Bloomberg’s corporate education “reforms,” we finally have the chance to move our schools forward. Gov. Cuomo would push us backward. We will not let him. We will win this fight.

See you in the streets!

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