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Teacher’s Choice gains regular line

City budget pays dividends
New York Teacher
Gabrielle DiDonato of PS 69 on Staten Island used her Teacher’s Choice money to
Jonathan Fickies

Gabrielle DiDonato of PS 69 on Staten Island used her Teacher’s Choice money to buy books and audio equipment. The mayor and the City Council saw the program’s direct benefit to classrooms from her story and hundreds like it over the past four years.

Teacher’s Choice, since it was initiated more than 25 years ago by the UFT, has been funded as a special allocation of the City Council. In a major milestone for the program that reimburses educators for some of their out-of-pocket spending on classroom supplies, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Council agreed on June 14 to allocate funds for Teacher’s Choice as part of the annual city budget.

The decision to baseline Teacher’s Choice in the city budget for at least the next three years came after years of UFT members sharing how they used their Teacher’s Choice funds to enhance learning for their students. Those stories — of funds spent on classroom libraries, telescopes, school supplies for homeless children and other items — helped convince the mayor and City Council members of the program’s direct benefit to classrooms.

The Council and the mayor agreed to set the program’s base funding level at $20 million.

“Having this money in the regular budget gives Teacher’s Choice a new and important degree of stability,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “We don’t have to start from zero each year when lobbying for program funds.”

Last year with roughly the same level of funding, teachers received $250 in Teacher’s Choice, with other UFT titles receiving smaller allotments.

In another breakthrough in this year’s budget, the UFT Teacher Center, which has relied on state funding in the past, will also receive support from the city for the first time. The city budget allots $3.5 million for this respected professional development program that helps teachers deepen their subject-area knowledge and enhance their pedagogical skills. In addition to the regular workshops and citywide conferences the program conducts throughout the school year, teacher centers are now embedded in 114 schools. Twenty-eight teacher centers opened in schools in the 2018–19 school year alone.

The $92.8 billion city spending plan for the coming fiscal year also provides valuable funding for four other UFT education programs and initiatives.

“A dollar put into UFT programs goes directly to students, teachers and classrooms,” said Mulgrew. “It makes a difference where it counts.”

The UFT’s United Community Schools, which is now serving 20,000 students in 31 mostly high-needs schools, will receive $3 million in city funding — up from $2.25 million the previous year. The program transforms schools into community hubs by identifying the strengths and assets that already exist in a school community and bringing them into the school building.

The Positive Learning Collaborative, a program designed to replace punitive, after-the-fact discipline with proactive, problem-solving practices, is getting $1.5 million in city funds, up from slightly more than $1 million last year.

Funding for the UFT’s BRAVE anti-bullying program is holding steady at $200,000, and the Dial-A-Teacher homework helpline will receive $68,800.

The budget also baselines $30 million in funding to hire 285 additional social workers, an increase the UFT has demanded for years. Roughly 85 are already designated to be clinical social workers tasked with providing intervention services for students across the city.

“I want to thank Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Corey Johnson, Chairs Danny Dromm and Mark Treyger and their colleagues on the City Council,” said Mulgrew. “Together, they realize educators can make a dollar go further than just about anyone and reach more children than anyone thinks possible.”