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Testimony regarding the FY 2014-15 education expense & capital budgets

Testimony of the United Federation of Teachers Before the New York City Council Committees on Education & Finance

The United Federation of Teachers wishes to thank the City Council for its unwavering support of our members and our school communities. Your efforts are making a positive impact every day on the lives of New York City’s 1.1 million schoolchildren.

Earlier this week, our members ratified their first contract since 2009, a significant step forward for our schools and our profession. The contract empowers educators to make changes that will help us provide the best possible education to our students, as well as grow professionally. Among the many important features within the new agreement are programs to nurture innovation and career ladders in schools, and a new block of time dedicated solely to engaging and building relationships with parents.

Our union has welcomed the change in tone and priorities put forward by the de Blasio administration and Chancellor Fariña’s leadership at the Department of Education. By working together, we found a way to raise salaries across the board while also ensuring that our hard-working members would receive much-deserved retroactive monies by spreading out payments over the life of the deal. As we stated in our preliminary budget testimony, our research tells us that more than 32,000 New York City teachers left — not retired, but quit — during the Bloomberg years, many leaving for teaching jobs on Long Island and the counties to the north, or moving on to other careers entirely. We are hopeful that this new agreement will reverse that devastating trend and restore some stability to our schools.

The agreement will also help the city realize more than $1 billion in health care savings without adversely affecting members’ benefits — another important victory for all New Yorkers who will benefit from those savings.  

Achieving this historic agreement would not have been possible without support from members of the City Council. Thank you. Our budget priorities before the City Council this year reflect a desire to further strengthen the work that we are doing in our classrooms. Your commitment to these programs and initiatives will have a tremendous benefit to our students and educators.

Teacher’s Choice

Teacher’s Choice is one of the most important and appreciated City Council programs among our members. Teacher’s Choice funding directly supports children by reimbursing individual teachers for buying important classroom supplies not provided by the Department of Education.

A comprehensive survey of the city’s public school teachers by the UFT this year found that teachers spend on average $475 of their own money each year on additional supplies and materials for students. A significant number — 17 percent of teachers — spend $1,000 or more each year. We are appealing to the City Council to finance this important and enormously popular program at the prior funding level of $20 million.

Community Learning Schools

The New York City Community Learning Schools Initiative was launched in September 2012 by the UFT in collaboration with the New York City Council, the Partnership for New York City and Trinity Wall Street. After starting with six schools in the 2012-13 school year, the initiative expanded to 16 schools this school year.

This program aims to improve student outcomes by meeting the health, safety and social service needs of students, parents and communities. It facilitates partnerships between public schools and nonprofits, local businesses and government agencies in order to connect vital services to public school buildings. Through such services, community schools remove barriers to student learning, minimize disruptions in the day-to-day life of students and parents, and help to raise the level of achievement of everyone in the school community. A $1 million funding commitment from the City Council would help the Community Learning Schools Initiative hire more school-based resource coordinators, who are the linchpin of this model.

It is worth noting that thanks to our successful collaboration with the City Council, the DOE and the School Construction Authority (SCA), new health and vision clinics will soon be built in several of our community school buildings.

Institute for Understanding Behavior

The Institute for Understanding Behavior, a consortium of the UFT and the DOE, trains entire school staffs to respond effectively to challenging behavior through strategies that foster students’ social, emotional and academic growth. The institute works with schools to reduce student disciplinary incidents and suspensions while improving attendance and achievement. Eight schools are participating in the program this school year, and dozens more are on the waiting list. With $1 million in additional funding, the Institute for Understanding Behavior would be able to bring its program to 10 additional schools.

Universal Pre-K

We applaud the great work being done by Mayor de Blasio and the Council to expand and enhance quality universal prekindergarten. High-quality early education programs give children a foundation for success in school and in life. It furthers children’s social, emotional and intellectual development by building their abilities in critical thinking, concentration, making transitions from one activity to the next, and verbal and written communication.

More than 4,200 new pre-K seats are being created for the fall, which will be spread out among 140 public schools. That brings the number of full-day pre-K seats in public schools to more than 20,300, a noteworthy increase.

Child Care Funding

As the city works to expand quality pre-K programs, we also must continue to expand child care funding so that families who need child care services will have access to quality programs. Home-based family child care providers, represented by the UFT, provide child care services for thousands of infants and toddlers and care to thousands more school-age children after the school day ends. It’s a vital service that not only helps working families, but also gives children a safe, nurturing, academically based environment.

According to the City's data, currently only 27% of income-eligible families currently receive subsidized child care, and we can do better. Just as the UPK initiative provides social and economic benefits for our communities, so too do our home child care programs.

After-school Programs

The UFT strongly supports the DOE’s plan to deliver high-quality after-school programs in every middle school. After-school programs, now offered in 239 middle schools, would become available in all 512 middle schools under this new plan, effectively doubling the number of students eligible, from 60,000 to 120,000. Students who participate would have access to academic and literacy programs, as well as music and the arts. Since a student’s middle-school years are considered so challenging, our union welcomes these new programs.

BRAVE Anti-Bullying Hotline

The BRAVE anti-bullying hotline is an invaluable resource for both students who are being bullied and for the parents and teachers trying to help them. LifeNet counselors take calls and respond to text messages on afternoons and evenings each day after school. Sponsored by the UFT and administered by the Mental Health Association of New York City, this phone line can be kept open for another year with an additional $100,000 in funding.

Universal School Lunch

The UFT places a high priority on children’s nutritional needs and recognizes the importance of school meals in meeting those needs. Our members see firsthand every day how hunger and poor nutrition can hurt our students, affecting their academic performance, attendance, health and behavior. In nearly any given school, you will find teachers who keep snacks on hand to help their students stay fed and focused.

With universal free lunch, an estimated 120,000 more New York City children would receive a nutritious school lunch every day.  A modest city investment of $20 million for universal school lunch would bring to the city an additional $59 million in federal funds.

Capital Projects

The UFT welcomes efforts to remove the 350-plus trailers, called temporary classroom units or TCUs, stationed outside our schools and to add more seats in overcrowded districts. We also applaud efforts to make long-overdue technology enhancements in our schools and to accelerate the timeline for replacing PCB-contaminated lighting fixtures.

It’s important to remember that while a lot of good work has been done to repair schools damaged by Hurricane Sandy, a handful of school buildings are still receiving heat and hot water only through temporary boilers parked outside their buildings. What’s more, some schools still need repairs to electrical components and other physical plant infrastructure including fire alarms. We would like to see these capital projects made a priority as well.

Again, thank you for your commitment to our public schools and for this opportunity to provide testimony on behalf of our membership. We look forward to working together with the Council in the months ahead.