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Speaking out made a difference

New York Teacher

Michael Mulgrew Headshot 07-19
Helping people is what we do; it’s the very essence of our work. We want to help our students be successful learners and productive citizens, and so we go above and beyond every day to provide them with the very best education possible.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough these days. Over the last three months, our time has been consumed not just by lesson plans and classroom work, but also by battles against harmful policy ideas and political agendas. UFT members and our NYSUT colleagues have been forced to spend an enormous amount of energy fighting for our students, our schools and our profession.

Luckily, we haven’t been alone in that fight. Parents have stood with us, side by side, a unified front against moneyed interests that would rather privatize and profit off the backs of our students. The parents get it. They understand that it’s teachers who have their children’s interests at heart. It’s been a partnership years in the making, and it made all the difference.

Still, while the latest battle may be drawing to a close, we still have months — and probably years — of battles to go.

Just imagine what a great school system we would have if the governor and his supporters fought this hard to strengthen public education. Imagine if Wall Street used its money and influence to get teachers a decent curriculum and more tools for the classroom, or if hedge-funders fought for more guidance counselors, more science labs, more field trips and more academic intervention services.

Why can’t they get behind issues that will actually make a difference in our students’ lives — issues that research tells us help improve outcomes for kids? It seems like they’re the only ones that don’t get it. Just look at the recent polls: It’s clear that most New Yorkers feel the governor is trying to move education in the wrong direction.

The public education community has made its values and priorities clear throughout this campaign. From Montauk to Buffalo, educators and parents have spoken out against the overemphasis on high-stakes testing and the need for fair and equal funding for schools across the state.

Every phone call you made, every tweet you sent, every sign you made — it all helped move the needle and educate the public on the truth behind the governor’s proposals. New Yorkers now have a better understanding of what all kids need, and judging by the huge turnouts that we’ve seen at events around the state, educators and parents are willing to stand up and fight for those things.

We succeeded in shining a spotlight on the state’s failure to meet its financial obligations to public schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement. That new awareness set the stage for the $1.6 billion increase in school aid in the state budget.

We now turn to the next phase in our campaign. The state Legislature will continue to meet through the end of June, which means we must continue to raise public awareness about the issues that matter. That includes opposing an increase in the charter cap until charter operators agree to serve all children.

At the same time, we must continue demonstrating to the people of New York and the rest of the country the incredible things that public schools and public school educators can do when they receive proper support. These fights in Albany, while necessary, have always been a distraction from that important work. UFT members are doing amazing things each and every day, and those efforts should be celebrated, not demonized.

In closing, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your advocacy, for your dedication and most of all, for your commitment to helping others. These last few months have been some of the toughest in years. But we have shown the enormous power of school communities when they stand together to protect our students and schools.