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President's Perspective

Funding our future

New York Teacher

The month of March finds us again marshalling our forces to ensure we get a state budget that protects public education in New York City.

There is reason for concern. Albany lawmakers, who must pass a balanced budget by April 1, are staring down a projected $6.1 billion deficit. More than 1,000 UFT member lobbyists will be descending on the capital on March 16 to remind lawmakers that balancing the budget on the backs of our students and schools is a losing proposition.

Albany’s growing budget deficit is largely a result of the explosive growth in Medicaid spending in the state. New York State deserves credit for providing health coverage to nearly all its residents, largely by expanding Medicaid eligibility. The state was responsible for the administration of Medicaid and initially crafted safeguards to shield local municipalities from much of the expense.

Now, after Medicaid costs spiked, the state is blaming New York City and other local municipalities for cost increases they had no control over. And Albany wants local communities to absorb costs the state had previously pledged to cover.

Incredibly, the executive budget shifts $1.1 billion in new Medicaid costs to New York City. If the city were forced to pay that tab, it would have to make cuts elsewhere that would harm our schools and the communities where our students and their families live.

There are other ways to deal with both the budget deficit and the need to reengineer Medicaid costs. The answer is not shifting those costs onto local communities.

We will tell lawmakers on March 16 that it is long past time for New York’s multimillionaires and billionaires, who have ridden a rocket-like economy to new heights of wealth over the last decade, to carry their fair share of the tax burden.

The UFT and our state affiliate NYSUT have joined together with other unions and community organizations in a Fund Our Future campaign to call for imposing a modest tax increase on the state’s more than 46,000 multimillionaires and a new wealth tax on the state’s 112 billionaires.

Those changes would generate over $12 billion, more than enough to cover rising Medicaid costs and address educational inequality in this state head on.

Our proposal has broad public support: A poll we commissioned with other unions in February found 92% of the state’s voters support new taxes on the ultra-wealthy.

We are also calling on state lawmakers not to give preferential treatment to charter schools. The executive budget proposes a $1,046 per-pupil increase in state aid for each charter school, but only a $240 per-pupil increase for public schools, a discrepancy that is profoundly unfair. When we add up the executive budget’s total investment in charter schools statewide, it amounts to an increase of approximately 14%. New York City already spends $2.4 billion on charter schools annually.

The executive budget seeks to circumvent New York City’s charter school cap by allowing the reissuance of a surrendered, revoked or terminated charter to a new school. Reviving these 18 so-called “zombie” charters is a clear violation of the cap. We also want Albany to close a loophole that allows one charter application to eventually create three new schools — one elementary, one middle and one high school. If it doesn’t, those 18 zombie charters, if reissued, could morph into 54 schools.

The governor’s budget proposal also includes a $50 million allocation, up from $31.5 billion in last year’s final state budget, for New York City charter school facilities aid. We are lobbying state lawmakers to repeal this ever-increasing charter school facilities aid that siphons taxpayer dollars into the private real estate industry.

Until charter schools make their finances transparent and are held accountable for educating the same range of students as public schools, Albany should not do them any favors.

We need state lawmakers to protect our public schools — that’s the message our member lobbyists will be delivering on Lobby Day.