UNION PRESIDENTS SPEAK - RANDI WEINGARTEN, UFT
Keep The Promises to Kids
This time last year, spirits were running high in New York City education circles as state and city leaders finally pledged to invest the resources needed to prepare the next generation of public school children for college and the challenges of the 21st Century workforce.
Getting to this point was not easy. It took a 14-year court battle by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a broad coalition of education advocates, to get the state to commit to increased funding for city schools. The city also committed to providing more money to enact education reforms and improve the school system.
But here we are a year later having to fight yet again to get the state and city to honor their commitments and keep the promises made to kids.
Keep in mind these were not political campaign promises made in the heat of contentious election battles. On the contrary, these were long-term, predictable budgetary commitments that were enacted into public policy that parents, educators, advocates and children hoped would be the beginning of a sustained movement to improve our public schools.
Now these commitments are being threatened as the state and city react to uncertain economic times in the months ahead with proposals that could cost city schools half a billion dollars this school year and next. The very help that our children need so desperately—and which they were promised – is being put at risk. For example:
Last year, the state promised to increase its basic classroom operating aid to New York City by $528 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year. But Governor Eliot Spitzer recently proposed reducing this amount by nearly $200 million.
In 2006, the state pledged to increase building funds for the city by $11.2 billion to enable the city to complete a $13.1 billion capital plan to erect and repair school facilities. That promise is now threatened by proposals that would delay the state reimbursement to the city for its construction costs.
The city pledged to raise its education investment by $2.2 billion over four years. However, the city Department of Education is cutting $180 million in funds this school year with $100 million coming right out of classrooms in schools all over the city. It gets worse next year with an additional cut of $324 million. The two-year total cut exceeds half a billion dollars!
This retreat from the commitments made by the state and city is disturbing in light of the academic progress our school system has shown in recent years. Most importantly, kids need to be immunized in hard economic times, and that was the intent of the long-term budget priorities. Students, parents and educators have worked very hard to meet challenging standards, and just as our school system stands poised to make significant and sustained strides for kids, the promised resources are being withheld.
Education advocates are well aware of the alarms being sounded by Wall Street about fears of an economic recession in the region and the nation, and we understand elected officials’ desire to be fiscally prudent. But city and state budgets should not be balanced on the backs of school kids. A generation of kids has already paid a hefty price for delayed education funding, and we can’t let it happen again.
When government promises to safeguard the education of our children, parents and the public have a right to expect those promises to be honored. The absence of an independent Board of Education and schools chancellor requires other means to intervene on behalf of our children.
That’s why education advocates have banded together to form the Keep the Promises Coalition. This diverse body of education advocacy groups, teachers and principals, community organizations, clergy, labor unions and dozens of elected city and state officials came together earlier this month to spearhead a movement to protect New York City public school students from the cuts.
The coalition is waging a campaign to raise public awareness about the proposed cuts. It is also lobbying city and state officials to reverse the cuts and restore desperately needed education funds for city schools.
And that’s where you, dear reader, and the rest of the public come in. The coalition is urging New Yorkers to call their elected representatives in city and state government and voice their opposition to the cuts.
You can call your state Assemblyman and state Senator at the toll-free New York State AFL-CIO Action Line at 877-255-9417. If you happen not to know the name of your representative, simply give the operator your zip code and ask to be connected. You can call your City Council Member at 212-788-7100.
We also urge you to join us in a public rally against school budget cuts on March 19 at 4 p.m. outside City Hall on Broadway south of Chambers Street in Manhattan.
We may face uncertain economic times in the months ahead, but this much is certain: We must keep our promises to kids. They deserve to have those promises honored. They have waited long enough.#
Randi Weingarten is the President of the United Federation of Teachers.