UNION PRESIDENTS SPEAK:
RANDI WEINGARTEN — AFT & UFT
Protecting the Classroom
As summer draws to what seems like a much too rapid end, parents, children and teachers across New York City are preparing for the challenges of the new school year with a renewed sense of optimism—and with good reason. The fact is we all have much to be excited about as we get set to build upon the momentum of progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve over the past year.
Test scores and graduation rates are up—not as much as everyone would like, of course, but the progress is substantial and things are certainly headed in the right direction. Most parents surveyed by the public school system give their children’s teachers and schools high marks. In fact, 94 percent of parents approve of the job teachers are doing. The learning environment is safer, too, with school crime dropping 11 percent over the past academic year. And education continues to get a lot of attention in the news as both presidential candidates make it one of the core issues of their campaigns.
But getting to this point has not been easy, and many challenges remain in the months ahead, particularly regarding the issue of growing pressure to cut education funding due to these tough economic times.
Since January, the United Federation of Teachers has worked tirelessly with other groups in the Keep the Promises Coalition to protect our public schools from the threat of budget cuts. It has been an extraordinarily tough fight, and the New York City school system has taken some hits in the form of cuts in services and programs. But those cuts are nowhere near as bad as they could have been, and coalition members have prevailed for the most part in our efforts to persuade elected officials to protect the classroom and core services from the type of deep and crippling cuts we saw during the fiscal crises of the Seventies.
We appreciate the New York City Council for stepping up and restoring funds that the administration sought to cut from the education budget recently. And we are extremely grateful to Governor Paterson and the state Legislature for working hard during a special session this summer to find a way to immunize our schools from the pain of disruptive mid-year education budget cuts while also providing taxpayers with needed relief and a fiscally responsible way to pay for it. They should be commended for their wisdom in making our schools a priority when having to make drastic cuts in these difficult economic times.
But those of us who have had to fight these battles for so long know all too well that the biggest challenges lie ahead as the economy continues to show signs of strain. We know we must keep parents and the rest of the public aware of the threat to our schools.
That’s why the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing the city’s 100,000 public school educators, is currently running a radio advertising campaign for this back-to-school season. The spots are airing for a two-week period on most local stations. Our aim is to reassure parents and the public and let everyone know that while our educators are proud of the progress we achieved with their help and collaboration over the past year, we’ll be working even harder this year to improve upon that and give children the quality, well-rounded education they deserve.
And our efforts will not be limited to just the classroom. Educators, parents and other concerned groups and individuals must continue to work together in order to protect the classroom from budget cuts as tax revenues lag and costs rise. Barring a dramatic turnaround in the economy, the fight to save our schools from budget cuts will likely get much worse before things get better.
The only way to oppose those cuts is for parents, educators and other supporters of public education to band together and present a united front that will let our elected officials know in no uncertain terms that education must always be a priority. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past when fiscal crises resulted in officials making education cuts so deep and harmful that it has taken our school system decades to recover.
The UFT has always been open to working with others to help find solutions to challenges in tough economic times, and we remain willing to do so. Parents can rest assured knowing that they can count on the union to be their partner in the fight to protect our schools. With so much at stake, this is one battle we cannot afford to lose.#
Randi Weingarten is President of the United Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers.#