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Testimony regarding the New York City budget

New York Teacher

Good afternoon. My name is Michael Mulgrew, and I am the President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

On behalf of our members, I want to thank Speaker Corey Johnson, Education Chair Mark Treyger, Finance Chair Daniel Dromm and the entire Education Committee for this opportunity to discuss the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2020. At the end of this testimony, we will resubmit our December comments on capital investments to cover the preliminary capital plan for 2020–23 and the preliminary 10-year capital strategy plan portion of this hearing. Our comments called for an aggressive rollout to air-condition all schools and for removal of the remaining trailers used across the city.

I want to open by thanking you for your past advocacy and support of public education. There’s no denying we’re making progress in the city’s schools. We’re seeing record graduation rates accompanied by the highest-ever college readiness rates and a record number of students taking and passing Advance Placement exams, increases seen across every borough demographic.

As educators, we applaud the work this city has done in early childhood education, first by creating and implementing the largest Universal Pre-K program in the nation, and now by the yearly expansion of the 3K programs.

Our public schools provide opportunities for children from all economic backgrounds, and we are proud that our members’ accomplishments in the classroom are helping students reach their potential. Thank you for your part in that important work. Together, we make a difference.

Provide Teacher’s Choice

The City Council helps teachers put books, musical instruments and art supplies into the hands of students by reimbursing teachers for a portion of their out-of-pocket expenses.

New York City teachers spend, on average, $500 a year of their own money on classroom supplies including pencils, paper, math manipulatives — small cubes, tiles and squares for counting — telescopes, balls, rulers, compasses and even Hula-Hoops.

Our teachers also often buy children what they need to come to and stay in schools, from gloves, hats and warm coats in winter to food and snacks for when they arrive hungry.

Thanks to the City Council’s continued support, NYC teachers each received $250 in reimbursement this year through Teacher’s Choice.

This program puts resources into the classroom without delay or bureaucratic intervention. Teachers see what children need, and get it for them.

We are asking the administration to baseline Teacher’s Choice, what amounts to a direct investment in city classrooms.

During this transition, we are asking the City Council to continue to fund this worthwhile program at the same level as last year — $20 million.

Support Community Learning Schools

Our Community Learning Schools work with more than 20,000 students in 31 schools — roughly the size of the Syracuse school district. The initiative works with some of the highest-needs schools in NYC to create vibrant school communities capable of helping students and their families triumph over poverty and other barriers to learning.

The numbers speak for themselves, beginning with the significant return on investment we're seeing in each of our CLS schools. A simple $100,000 investment to hire a Community School Director can bring in more than $600,000 in services and grants to the school community, a 6-to-1 return on investment.

Test scores are exceeding expectations, we are seeing healthier school climates and parental satisfaction and involvement is on the rise.

Growth in ELA and math state assessment scores for the first two cohorts of UFT Community Learning Schools, established in 2012–13 and 2013–14, on average outpaced the growth scores in the ELA and math state assessments across all other NYC traditional public schools from 2013 to 2018. Additionally, data from the first cohort of UFT Community Learning Schools shows that from 2013 to 2018 the percentage of students reading at the lowest level dropped 27.4 percentage points from 58.4 percent of students to 31.4 percent of students, compared with a 13-percentage point decline when looking at citywide data across the same years.

Thanks to City Council support, targeted resources are flowing into 24 UFT CLS schools to provide mental health services, attendance intervention, academic enrichment and STEAM/STEM programming, at a cost of about $460 per student or about $2.50 per student per school day.

The UFT provides six schools with social workers to deliver clinical support to at-risk students, including crisis intervention, de-escalation and support to their families. Our social workers also run staff trainings on behavioral management strategies.  

Over the course of the year, the UFT CLS initiative has provided professional learning to more than 200 educators and staff in CLS schools because educator support is an important element of our model. We also provide professional development to Community School Directors, social workers and staff.

We have opened two full-service vision centers in existing school-based health centers, offering vision screening and free glasses to students who need them. And we are working with the state Health Commissioner to break down barriers to provide services in surrounding schools as well.

Seven of the UFT’s CLS schools, serving more than 2,100 students, are also involved in Vital Brooklyn, which distributes New York State-grown fresh food to parents, students, staff and community — a new way to get fresh produce and healthy foods to communities that have been food deserts.

We are now working to share what we have learned about best practices for community schools. We hope to provide technical support to other New York City schools interested in strengthening the community school work they are already doing.

We are asking for $4 million this year to directly support work at each of our schools, including expanding mental health supports to more of them. That funding will help provide each of the 31 schools with additional supplies, equipment and professional development, in addition to providing additional staff and programming.

Fund the Positive Learning Collaborative

The PLC is a joint venture of the UFT and the DOE designed to change the behavior of children and adults through restorative justice tools.

Our goal is to move away from punitive, after-the-fact discipline still in effect in many schools, and replace it with pro-active, problem-solving techniques that support positive school climates and address challenging student behavior with supportive interventions.  With our schools, we develop individualized plans that include training in therapeutic crisis interventions, restorative practices, community building, social and emotional learning, individual coaching and positive behavior support systems.

The Positive Learning Collaborative supports a multi-tiered, schoolwide approach in which all adults in a school building are trained to recognize and support students facing crises that could lead to behavioral problems, and in techniques that help them defuse student conflicts and build strong relationships with students. The model also provides curriculum to help students learn constructive ways to deal with frustration, anger and depression; behavior specialists who regularly visit classrooms to provide ongoing support; and a data system to track progress so schools can adapt mid-stream if something is not working.

In addition, PLC provides training and support to prevent biased-based bullying and promote gender-inclusive schools.

PLC started with six schools in 2013. This year 25 schools are participating in PLC, and an equal number is on a waitlist.    

The success of PLC in our first cohort of schools is clear: suspensions in this cohort have fallen nearly 82 percent (compared with a citywide decrease of 31 percent). Equally important, the violent incidents that can lead to suspensions have fallen 54 percent in this group. Academics have improved too — increases in test scores in these schools met or exceeded New York City gains in ELA and math.

At the same time, academic gains have either kept pace with or exceeded the citywide gains in standardized tests, while both staff and parents have reported increased levels of trust among all parties and a calmer and more nurturing school environment.

We ask that the Council to invest $1.5 million into PLC this year to help us expand supportive programming for the families and communities in our growing number of schools.

Restore funding for social workers for homeless students

As educators, we know the impact a social worker can have in a school — an impact all the greater when dealing with vulnerable student populations, such as children in temporary housing. We have followed through on this belief by using portions of your City Council support to hire additional social workers for some of our UFT CLS schools.

We are joining public school advocates across the city to call for a restoration of the $13.9 million that paid for 69 social workers to help homeless students get to school on time and complete their classwork. At a time when we have more than 100,000 students in temporary housing, we should be investing more resources into social and emotional support, not stripping resources.

We ask you to work with the administration to restore this program.

Support the BRAVE anti-bullying initiative

BRAVE, an acronym for Building Respect, Acceptance and Voice through Education, offers an array of resources and tools to help educators tackle bullying in their schools, including a series of workshops for UFT members.

The BRAVE initiative provides an anti-bullying hotline as well as professional development/training for staff, parents, students and community members.

BRAVE has reached more than 7,000 educators, students and parents this school year at more than 32 parent meetings and staff development sessions. These sessions give students, educators and parents the tools to identify and address bullying.

BRAVE has additionally reached more than 4,000 community members at 23 information events across all five boroughs. Events range from Harlem Week to community meetings arranged by city and state legislators, to NAACP information sessions and neighborhood forums.

Thanks to your support last year, we’re having a powerful impact on those who reached out to us. We are asking for $286,400 this year to continue to expand this vital program. 

Fund Dial-A-Teacher

Dial-A-Teacher provides homework help on subjects ranging from basic math or reading to advanced calculus and physics, with more than 40 UFT members answering more than 60,000 calls a year.

It’s totally free and we have a staff that speaks a variety of languages, including Armenian, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Tagalog.

The teachers answer homework questions on all subjects and at all grade levels: providing help to everyone from elementary children struggling with reading to high school students with questions about college-level physics.

Students and parents love this service. It has answered more than 2 million calls for homework help since the program began with three teachers in 1980. 

We receive scores of thank-you emails from satisfied mothers, fathers, grandparents and guardians. We also receive thank-you notes from parents who used the service when they were students and now call seeking help for their own children.

The Council’s support last year allowed us to modernize the telephone system our teachers use.

This year, we are asking for $68,800 to support the program and to provide a range of improvements, including creating an online platform to expand homework help services for students.

Support Broadway Bridges

Broadway Bridges aims to ensure that every student in a New York City public high school has the opportunity to see a Broadway show before graduation. Through Broadway Bridges, the Broadway League subsidizes $20 tickets to weekday matinee and evening performances by paying half of the ticket price as well as the $3.00-$3.50 in fees associated with each ticket purchase. This enables the Broadway League to offer schools $10 tickets. We ask that you support this important initiative. 

Closing thoughts

Amid all the uncertainty in this world, UFT members will continue to focus on what’s important: educating the next generation of New Yorkers. We are grateful for your support of their work. That continuing commitment is essential to providing a robust education for each and every child, so they are able to pursue their goals and dreams.

In the coming months, I hope we can build on these accomplishments together. Thank you.

Related Topics: Education Funding