NYS Teachers Union VP Discusses Legislative Priorities
As New York State’s legislative season swings into high gear, an important question underlies every discussion being held at the Capitol: What does the Empire State stand for?
Is New York State committed to benefitting all its citizens? Or just a few?
Do we support the principle of graduation caps for every child or undemocratic tax caps that hurt schools and disenfranchise voters?
Do we understand that public colleges and universities need significant investment to maintain New York’s pre-eminence as a “state of mind”? Do we value and invest in the services our hospitals and not-for-profits provide to the sick, the developmentally disabled and the frail elderly?
New York State’s budget reveals our state’s priorities and values. That’s why New York State United Teachers fights so hard to ensure state budget priorities align with what’s good for all New Yorkers. As the state’s largest union — with 600,000 members in education, health care and human services — New York State United Teachers is a constant and vocal presence at the Capitol to ensure legislators hear what’s needed for our schools, our universities, our health care facilities and our not-for-profits.
On budget issues, NYSUT believes the continuum of public education and health care must be fully funded.
CUNY, SUNY and the state’s community colleges deserve significant investment by the state to fund more full-time faculty, smaller class sizes and more sections offered in major courses to help students graduate in four years. New York State should increase aid to its community colleges and establish a $1 billion Public Higher Education Endowment Fund. As a state, we must fully commit to investing in our public hospitals that provide lifelines to the communities and educate the next generations of health care professionals. Our campaign to keep SUNY Downstate Medical Center open and serving the community is a case in point. To keep New York a “state of mind,” with public higher education as the path to opportunity, we need to stop the slow erosion that underfunding has caused to our public colleges and universities.
A $1.9 billion increase for public schools is essential to help narrow the achievement gap between students in high- and low-needs districts. New York State needs to invest more in community schools, provide universal Pre-K for all four-year-olds and restore important academic and extracurricular programs that students have lost in recent years. Early-childhood education — including full-day Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, and Head Start — is essential. Schools that serve the specialized educational needs of students with severe learning, emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities deserve funding that compensates for the reality that many have not had a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008.
NYSUT advocates for legislative priorities that advance quality services for all New Yorkers. A Safe Patient Handling bill, for example, is essential for the wellbeing of patients and health care professionals. This legislative session, NYSUT is continuing to press critical issues surrounding the over-testing of students — issues that have mobilized parents and educators. We speak on behalf of students. We are vigorously advocating on the issues of inappropriate testing of young children, privacy of student data and the need for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers resulting from standardized state tests — to ensure the time needed to get it right.
The results of this legislative session will help define the future for all New Yorkers and shape the state’s priorities for years to come. Quality public education and health care are essential for all New Yorkers — and we are proud to carry that message to our elected leaders.#
Andrew Pallotta is the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Executive Vice President.