February 5, 2013
Susan Smith, LaborPress Albany Bureau
New York State United Teachers said the proposed education budget makes progress on several fronts, but noted the projected $20.8 billion in state aid would still leave school districts with $500 million less than four years ago and mean more devastating cuts to programs that benefit students.
NYSUT acknowledged that the proposed budget's investments in community schools, full-day pre-kindergarten programs, additional learning time and career ladders for high-performing teachers are "strong, beginning steps in the right direction." Yet, NYSUT said continuing shortfalls in state aid – when combined with a destructive property tax cap – would perpetuate educational inequality and again trigger deep cuts, especially for school districts serving the state's most vulnerable schoolchildren.
"This budget is fairer than past budgets and makes a real effort toward meeting the needs of public education. We appreciate that," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "Still, the proposed increase in state aid comes nowhere near what school districts need to begin restoring the programs and staff lost during the last four years. In fact, 159 school districts – or more than 20 percent – would get less state aid in this proposed budget."
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta, in testimony to the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees, said the structure of the education budget is also problematic. He said the $125 million in proposed competitive grants and $203 million earmarked for "fiscal stabilization" is "not money school districts can count on to support their educational programs.
"As they begin their own local budgeting process, school districts need to be able to plan for the state aid they would receive," Pallotta said, noting that tying future state aid increases to teacher evaluation systems, for example, "creates uncertainty that districts cannot afford."
On other issues, Pallotta called on the Legislature to again fund Teacher Centers and said NYSUT had not yet taken a formal position on the governor's plan to provide education funding through casino gambling. Pallotta said NYSUT appreciates the governor's efforts to address short-term spikes in districts' pension contributions and noted the union, too, has advocated for some type of pension smoothing. "While we are still studying this specific plan, we know that allowing school districts the option to address this temporary spike in costs through some type of leveling of payments would help save jobs, alleviate program cuts and increase investment in education throughout the state. Any option that is enacted, however, absolutely must maintain the integrity of the state's retirement systems."