BALCONY - Business and Labor Coalition of New York

Free Tuition Idea Revived

March 28th, 2017

By Rick Seltzer

The drive for tuition-free public college experienced a rebirth Tuesday, rising from the ashes of the 2016 presidential election to re-emerge at the state level.

New York’s governor, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, delivered the latest version of the idea at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, flanked by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Cuomo, already rumored as a future presidential candidate, unwrapped a proposal that in many ways looks like the plan his party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, brought to the 2016 election — with a few differences.

Cuomo’s plan, called the Excelsior Scholarship, would ensure free tuition at New York’s public two- and four-year institutions to students whose families make up to $125,000 per year. That’s the same income threshold Clinton used for her national plan after Sanders’s strong run for the Democratic nomination pushed her to adopt a tuition-free proposal. But Cuomo called for phasing in the program more quickly than Clinton — over three years ending in 2019, instead of over four years ending in 2021.

The proposal for New York drew both praise and opposition within the state. Students and public higher education leaders backed it as supporting affordability for low- and middle-income families. But legislative Republican leadership balked at handing the bill to taxpayers. Meanwhile, the state’s private colleges and universities sounded a cautious note while awaiting more details. Many private college leaders strongly opposed the idea when it was pushed by Clinton and Sanders.

Sanders signaled a belief that New York will be the first of many states to roll out free tuition proposals. However, several national analysts remained split over whether free tuition would encourage more students to enroll and finish their degrees or whether it will amount to a regressive handout to middle-class and wealthy families who do not need it.

Cuomo’s proposal, which will need to be approved by the state’s legislators, would cover students enrolled in two-year and four-year programs at institutions in the State University of New York and the City University of New York systems. In some ways, it’s a throwback for CUNY, which was long associated with tuition-free attendance until the 1970s.

Students will need to be enrolled full time to participate, a requirement the governor’s office said would encourage on-time graduation. The governor’s office also indicated that the initiative is structured as a “last-dollar” program, paying after students receive other state and federal grants.

The new program would be rolled out over three years, starting in the fall of 2017. That year, state residents making up to $100,000 would qualify. The cutoff would rise to $110,000 in 2018, followed by $125,000 in 2019.

Cuomo’s office estimated that 80 percent of New York’s households make $125,000 or less. About 940,000 of them have eligible college-age children.

The program would cost about $163 million annually once it is fully phased in, according to estimates from the governor’s office. For comparison, New York has an existing Tuition Assistance Program for students that provides about $1 billion in grants annually. The state spent about $10.7 billion on higher education in 2016, including capital projects and personal service, according to its budget results for all governmental funds.

New York counted 573,555 full-time-equivalent students in public higher education in its 2017 budget. The average annual tuition for a bachelor’s program at SUNY institutions is $6,470, according to the governor’s office. It is $6,330 at CUNY institutions. Associate degrees at the respective institutions average $4,350 and $4,800. Cuomo made no mention Tuesday of the program covering room and board, but those costs vary widely in New York State, where some public institutions serve commuter populations, others serve residential populations, and other institutions fall in between.

When introducing his proposal, Cuomo likened the push for free college tuition to the push generations ago to have the state pay for high school attendance.

“If you want to offer everybody a fair shot, then you have to get up-to-date, and you have to say what high school was 75 years ago, college is today,” Cuomo said. “College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success. And the way this society said, ‘We’re going to pay for high school because you need high school,’ this society should say, ‘We’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful.’”

Sanders argued economic changes have made postsecondary education necessary for success.

“The economy has changed,” he said. “Technology has changed. The global economy has changed. And if we are going to do justice to the working families of this country, to lower-income families, if we are going to have an economy that creates the kinds of jobs that we need for our people, we must have the best-educated workforce in the world.”

Many of New York’s higher education leaders offered support for the proposal. City University of New York Board of Trustees Chair William C. Thompson, a Cuomo appointee, spoke at the Tuesday announcement, saying steps are necessary to keep college in reach for everyone. SUNY’s chairman, H. Carl McCall, and chancellor, Nancy L. Zimpher, voiced support in statements focused on affordability.

The SUNY Student Assembly’s president, Marc J. Cohen, called on New York legislators to act quickly to approve Cuomo’s proposal. Barbara Bowen, the president of the Professional Staff Congress — a staff and faculty union for CUNY — called the proposal a “conceptual and political breakthrough.” Frederick E. Kowal, president of the United University Professions, a union representing SUNY faculty members, called it “the kind of positive, progressive change that UUP’s members would get behind.”

It might not be so simple, however. Matthew Chingos, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said the new proposal might not be as progressive as it seems, because New York’s existing aid programs cover many costs for low-income students when taken in concert with federal aid. Therefore, the state would be effectively spending more money on students from wealthier backgrounds.

“If SUNY tuition is $6,000 and change and the Pell Grant is $5,000 and change, and New York already has other need-based aid that already closes the gap, they’re basically just taking a world where tuition already is free for low-income kids and doing nothing more for those low-income kids — and instead plowing millions of dollars into children from more affluent families,” Chingos said. “The change in expenditure is regressive.”

Chingos added, however, that the idea of free college for lower-income families can be a good idea. His main issues with the proposal are setting the income cutoff at $125,000 and not providing new resources to low-income students.

Stronger criticism came from New York Republicans. State Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb attacked the proposal in a statement.

“Governor Cuomo isn’t providing ‘free’ tuition, he’s simply telling New York taxpayers to write a bigger check,” Kolb said. “At the end of the day, someone has to pay the bill, and once again his political ambitions will be subsidized by the highest-taxed people in America.”

The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York released a cautious statement saying it was waiting for more details. The question at hand is what is best for each state resident and taxpayers, said Mary Beth Labate, president of the organization.

“New York policy makers have long understood the critical role that the state plays in giving all families — regardless of their financial means — a choice in higher education,” Labate said in the statement. “The state’s major higher education financial assistance programs have always been available to all qualifying students. New York State’s private, not-for-profit colleges and universities are willing and seasoned partners and have long been committed to a public/private partnership that has served students and taxpayers well.”

CICU represents the leaders of more than 100 private not-for-profit colleges and universities in New York. Such institutions provided $5.1 billion in institutional financial aid in 2014-15, it said.

The proposal could very well spell trouble for some of New York’s many small private colleges and universities. The state is already an intensely hypercompetitive market because of the large number of institutions operating there, according to Ian Mortimer, vice president for enrollment management at Nazareth College in suburban Rochester.

Nazareth is a small fish, enrolling 2,159 undergraduates and 724 graduate students in the fall of 2016. It’s in a big pond — Mortimer counts 38 baccalaureate-degree-granting institutions within a 120-mile drive of Nazareth’s campus.

But small private colleges and universities can argue that they’re in an entirely different cost market than New York’s public institutions. Nazareth students, for example, pay much more than students at public colleges. Nazareth’s advertised tuition is $31,024 for 2016-17, and its average net tuition for the class entering in the fall of 2016 notched $15,295. Compare that to average annual tuition reported in the low-to-mid-$6,000 range for SUNY and CUNY.

“I’m not entirely sure this would incrementally put more pressure on us,” Mortimer said. “It’s already apples and oranges in terms of cost.”

Mortimer voiced other concerns about the tuition-free state college program, though. New York’s public tuition rates are much lower than many other states’, he said. New York also has its Tuition Assistance Program and a two-year federal loan payment program.

Mortimer wonders if the money could be better spent on explicitly trying to improve graduation rates for those most at risk of dropping out of college, noting that degree completion generally means being better able to pay off college loans and secure employment.

“When you look at the demographics of the state, I can’t help but think that part of this is a competitive play for SUNY and CUNY,” Mortimer said. “If the governor has access to about $160 million, I do think it would be much more appropriately applied to [improving] graduation rates.”

Advocates maintain that tuition-free programs are better than an often-confusing mix of financial aid and loans. The simple idea of free tuition can be enough to encourage more students to enroll, said Morley Winograd, president of the Campaign for Free College Tuition.

“The reason you start with free college tuition, regardless of the requirements or eligibility issues that might be raised, is because the studies have shown that it drives enrollment up,” Winograd said. “Once you take the challenge of the cost of a college degree off the table, a lot more people will sign up to attend.”

Other analysts debated the proposal’s requirement that a student attend college full time. Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos, said he had mixed feelings.

The goal should be to promote full-time enrollment while not ignoring students who need to attend part time, he said.

“We want to take care of the financial burdens that may be preventing students from going full time,” Huelsman said. “And we want to signal that the likelihood of completing increases a lot if you attend full time.”

When Sanders talked about free tuition in Queens on Tuesday, he said other states could follow New York’s lead if it enacts the legislation. But New York is not the only state to dabble with free tuition — Tennessee and Oregon have both enacted forms of free community college programs, for example.

Still, the fact that Cuomo, the governor of the large and visible state of New York, promoted the free tuition idea in his first policy proposal of 2017 indicates the idea’s staying power — particularly as Democrats seek to regroup from their 2016 setbacks.

“This idea has legs,” Huelsman said. “It’s not going away.”

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Charter School “Choice” Excludes Many Homeless Children

March 15th, 2017

By Michael Mulgrew, President, UFT

School “reformers” — U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos among them — constantly harp about offering parents more choices, particularly charter schools.

But when you look at who enrolls and stays in charter schools in New York City, the neediest children and families seem to have the fewest choices.

How else to explain the fact that, as a group, charters end up with students who are more likely to speak English and who are less in need of concentrated special education services than the students in public schools in their neighborhoods?

Charters are also far less likely to be serving the most vulnerable students in our system: the more than 100,000 kids who have been homeless in the past four years and living in temporary housing, meaning they have spent nights in a shelter or doubled up on a relative’s sofa or slept in the backseat of the family car.

In Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, for example, three neighborhood public schools and two Success Academy charters operate within five blocks of each other yet serve dramatically different student populations.

In the three neighborhood public schools, 22%, 30% and 44% of the children are living in temporary housing, according to the city’s Department of Education statistics.At the two Success Academy charter schools, however, between 12% and 13% of children are in this situation.

Success Academy is not unique.

* An Achievement First K-8 charter in East New York has only 5% of its children living in temporary housing. The neighborhood elementary school that shares space in the same building has a homeless population reaching 30%, and the two neighborhood public schools a couple blocks away have 19% and 25% of their students living in temporary housing, according to city education numbers.

* A KIPP middle school charter in Harlem has 12% of its students living in temporary housing while the public middle school located in the same building has 23% and the three neighborhood public schools located within a half mile have homeless populations ranging from 14% to 34%, according to city education numbers.

* Six percent of the students at an Icahn elementary charter in the Soundview section of the Bronx live in temporary housing, compared with 14% in the public school that shares the same building. The two neighborhood public schools located four blocks away have homeless populations ranging from 25% to 28%.

It’s time to create a set of real, enforceable standards that will ensure that charters play the role they were designed to play in educating New York City’s children. The state Legislature this year should:

* Demand real accountability for any charter that fails to accept and keep all children, including those in temporary housing and children with the most severe learning challenges. Charters that fail to enroll comparable numbers of high-need students as their neighborhood public schools should not be allowed to expand existing charters or to open new schools and could forfeit existing charters.

* Establish a means test to make sure that only charters that show financial need are eligible for free public space. Operations with the financial ability to pay for space out of their donors’ pockets should do so rather than siphon taxpayer dollars from neighborhood public schools, which are typically unable to match charters in fundraising clout.

* Provide true transparency by requiring charters and their management organizations to open their books to federal, state and city auditors. Parents and taxpayers deserve to know where charter funds come from and whether these funds are being spent to benefit students or charter management. A recent purchase by Success Academy of a $68 million commercial condominium in Manhattan highlights the need for the public to understand how charters raise and spend their money.

Charter schools were designed to be incubators for innovation that could then be spread across school districts. But we see what happens when charters are allowed to grow unchecked, unresponsive to public oversight. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s home state of Michigan is a warning for the rest of the country as she tries to expand her agenda to privatize education: unregulated charters are always the first step.

New York cannot afford for its charters to remain a parallel system that takes public tax dollars yet remains resistant to public disclosure or accountability that would force them to serve all kids.

It’s time our lawmakers mandate that they do so.

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Why we must reject a constitutional convention

March 14th, 2017

Why we must reject a constitutional convention

Every 20 years, New York State holds a referendum that asks a seemingly simple question of voters: Should the state hold a convention for the purpose of revising or amending the state’s constitution?

The question will appear on the ballot on Nov. 7 this year. We are asking you to vote “no,” and here’s why:

At a time when public employee unions have been targeted as Public Enemy No. 1, as more and more states in Republican hands pass right-to-work laws (a misnomer if ever there was one), and as union membership continues to decline nationwide, we fear our enemies will use a state constitutional convention to advance their agenda and destroy many of the benefits and rights that unionized workers, civil rights activists and social justice leaders have fought for in the past century and a half.

A bill of rights

A constitutional convention would put many of our hard-fought rights at risk. The constitution guarantees the right of every child to a free education, the right of workers to collect Workers’ Compensation, and the right to be a member of a union and bargain collectively.

The New York State Constitution also requires that the state provide social services. Article XVII, Section 2, states unequivocally, “The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the Legislature may from time to time determine.”

The state constitution, as it is written now, prohibits any reduction in a public employee’s pension benefits. Article 5, Section 7 says “… membership in any pension or retirement system of the state or of a civil division thereof shall be a contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” It’s a small sentence that, if changed, could have enormous repercussions for our retirees, our in-service members and every public employee enrolled in a retirement system.

A vote of ‘no’ in 1997

The last time the question came before New York voters, they rejected a constitutional convention, and it was no accident: Many groups and organizations, including the UFT, worked together to persuade voters to vote “no” in 1997 for many of the same reasons. If anything, all the pressures we faced in 1997 have only worsened in the ensuing years.

Union membership, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1997 was 14.1 percent of wage and salary employees. About 37 percent of government workers were unionized at that time. In 2016, 10.7 percent of wage and salary workers were unionized. But unionized government workers remained relatively constant at 34.4 percent. New York State leads the nation with the highest union membership rate, at 23.6 percent. We’re becoming the last bastion of advocacy for progressive policies.

Accountability at the polls

One of the reasons we can remain strong is that the New York State Constitution affords us so many protections as union members. We believe that a “no” vote on Nov. 7 prevents our enemies from having the opportunity to destroy that which we have fought so hard to achieve.

A warning: You’re going to hear the argument, “But some things need to change, and this is a good opportunity to do it.” Rest assured: Anything that can be accomplished through a state constitutional convention can also be accomplished through a referendum or individual constitutional amendments passed by the state Legislature. Then, you can hold your elected representatives accountable at the polls when they run for re-election. We believe that is the correct way to affect change.

The UFT’s pension clinics are aimed at those members thinking about retiring within five years, but all members are welcome to attend. These clinics are only one way the UFT educates its members about how to prepare for a financially secure retirement.

This column is compiled by Tom Brown, David Kazansky and Debra Penny, teacher-members of the NYC Teachers’ Retirement Board.


Should New York’s kids be afraid of Betsy DeVos?

March 13th, 2017

By Ashley Hupfl

When Betsy DeVos was nominated as U.S. education secretary last fall, teachers unions condemned the pick and denounced her lavish spending to promote school vouchers, charter schools and for-profit schools. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, claimed that by nominating DeVos, “Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”

When the nominee, a Michigan billionaire and Republican donor who married into the Amway family fortune, testified before a U.S. Senate committee in January, she either would not or could not weigh in on basic policy matters, such as how best to assess student performance. Perhaps her most memorable line was an off-script comment defending guns in schools as a way to protect against “potential grizzlies” in places like Wyoming. Senators were deluged with thousands of calls, letters and emails opposing the school choice advocate.

In February, shortly before her confirmation vote, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer castigated the nominee, who has virtually no experience with public schools, as the “least qualified in a historically unqualified Cabinet.” Two Republican senators broke ranks and voted against DeVos, resulting in a 50-50 tie. It took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence to eke out the narrowest of majorities.

“She seemed not to be aware of the civil rights function that the department plays to make sure every child does get a proper education.” – Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan

Now, as she embarks on the latest and most high-profile chapter in her crusade to allow students to opt out of traditional public schools, elected officials, educators and experts in New York are wondering what impact she’ll have here. Will she follow through on President Donald Trump’s pledge to create a $20 billion fund for school vouchers? Will congressional Republicans move on priorities like reforms to health care and entitlement spending and still have the time, or the political will, to take on education initiatives that are controversial even among some conservatives? Or as angry Democrats might put it, is DeVos merely unqualified – or will she eviscerate the public education system?

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Education, said she is not concerned about DeVos’ well-documented background in private schools. Instead, it is the education secretary’s education philosophies that worry her.

“She continues to be quite critical of our public schools without recognizing that they educate every child,” Nolan said. “I know during her testimony, she seemed not to be aware of the civil rights function that the department plays to make sure every child does get a proper education – things like that were very troubling.”

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, pointed to DeVos’ track record in Michigan, where she spearheaded an expensive lobbying campaign to expand charter schools. There have been mixed results at such schools, especially in Detroit, where for-profit operators flourished with little state oversight and lackluster student results. Unions and some education advocates argue that these schools, as well as vouchers to cover the cost of students switching to private schools, take away critical resources from traditional public schools. In Michigan, Mulgrew argued, DeVos’ efforts damaged the state’s education system, which is why he’s worried about the impact she could have here.

“I don’t know she fully understands how public schools work.” – state Sen. Carl Marcellino

“I’ve had numerous adults here from the state of Michigan – including the president of the state school board – who said what she did was horrible,” Mulgrew said. “He actually worked with her for the first couple years. What was really happening was that school systems were being destroyed and when they tried to push back, she just used her money to stop them from getting anything they wanted in the state Legislature.”

But Nolan said she does not believe that state Senate Republicans, who are in the majority, will turn their back on the public school system in favor of charters. “New York state puts billions of dollars into education, so that gives us some skin in the game, as young people would say,” Nolan said. “Education in New York has been a bipartisan issue for a very long time.”

Indeed, some Republicans in Albany raised their eyebrows at the appointment. “I’ve never met her, but from what I’ve read, she comes from a background in private schools and charter schools,” said state Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino. “What I don’t know is if she truly understands – I’ve had this conversation with some union people in my district – I don’t know she fully understands how public schools work.”

Theoretically, DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education could withhold federal education funding if New York, and other states, decline to adopt their policies.

“We need some (federal money),” Marcellino said. “I’ve advised them most of the time not to take the money because with federal money comes federal guidelines. It puts them in charge and they can tell you how to spend it and what to spend it on.”

The federal government can also dangle money in front of the state to entice them to adopt their policies. Nolan pointed to the state’s choice to accept $700 million in federal Race to the Top funding, which included accountability measures that proved to be very unpopular. The state ultimately walked back from those measures.

“The federal government might have some ability to demand we do some things with vouchers with private schools or charters,” she said. “That will be something that will have to get fought over as it goes forward, but I’m concerned that they may send down unfunded mandates that don’t have to do with New York’s education philosophy and we’ll have to see what happens.”

What also could happen is that New York will not experience much of a change under DeVos. For one thing, education policy is largely driven by the states. The bulk of education funding comes from the state and local governments, with only a fraction from the federal government.

“I think it’s important to understand … the very limited role, in fact, the United States Department of Education has. … Charter schools are creatures of state law and will continue to chart our own course in New York.” – James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center

Indeed, one education advocacy group is making the claim that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is moving to eliminate the Foundation Aid formula and an accompanying $4.3 billion state obligation to public schools in the state – an amount that exceeds what the state receives in federal education aid by about $1.4 billion. The Cuomo administration says it is not ending Foundation Aid.

New York, a state with influential teachers unions, does have a growing charter school sector, but only nonprofits can apply – whereas in Michigan, a majority of charters are for-profit. Nor has New York has followed the lead of a dozen or so states that provide vouchers for students to attend private schools.

“I think it’s important to understand … the very limited role, in fact, the United States Department of Education has,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. “In K-12 generally and with charter schools in particular, other than providing this critical startup funding, they don’t really play a major role. Charter schools are creatures of state law and we’ll continue to chart our own course in New York, as we did under the other three presidents. I don’t see any difference there.”

Merriman argued that DeVos’ position is not actually too much of a shift from the last few education secretaries, at least when it comes to charter schools, which have won some bipartisan support within New York as well. While total education spending in last year’s state budget increased by $1.3 billion, charter schools also got a boost with a $54 million increase to the amount they receive per student by $430. The state also required New York City to help some charter schools pay rent.

But the unions and their allies say that DeVos’ confirmation victory is only the first battle in a long war. Mulgrew said the one good thing stemming from the DeVos confirmation is that he is already seeing a grass-roots movement to oppose her.

“The UFT has never – and will never – back down from a fight when our members and our school communities are attacked,” Mulgrew said while testifying in Albany last month. “We’ve been marching and rallying around the city these past few months, at immigration rallies, the anti-DeVos rally at the Tweed Courthouse, the airport takeover and the amazingly successful Women’s March. In the months ahead, you can expect more of the same. We stand together with parents and students, to protect our country and our rights.”

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Magee: Looking back … and looking forward

March 3rd, 2017

By Karen E. Magee, President


Women’s History Month resonates with me this year on a personal level. It is my honor and privilege to be NYSUT’s first woman president. I serve with deep gratitude for the pioneering women leaders who have preceded me and have done so much to make our union great. And I serve with an equally deep commitment to leave our union stronger and better for the women and men who follow in my footsteps.

Early in my presidency, I convened a group of NYSUT members dedicated to advancing women’s priorities through our democratic union process. The inspired work of this ad hoc Women’s Steering Committee bears fruit March 3–4 with our first-ever statewide NYSUT conference focusing on women’s priorities: “Speak Up, Stand Up, Step Up!”

This conference is designed not just to educate, but also to organize and mobilize around women’s priorities. It is one of the countless ways a union empowers members. In fact, if I had to sum up in one word what the union means to me, it is contained in this simple, yet powerful, concept of voice. As NYSUT’s president, I am dedicated to amplifying our members’ voices — making sure they are heard loud and clear in the media and in the corridors of power in Albany and Washington. As I reflect on the almost three years since my election, I know that these are some of my proudest moments:

  • Establishing NYSUT as the “voice that can’t be ignored.” We took a change-making stand against then-Education Commissioner John King’s failed approach to testing and evaluations. With fierce resolve, we “called out Cuomo” for his test-and-punish messaging and actions. As a result, working in partnership with parents, we derailed policies that were bad for students and bad for educators. By expanding our member communications, I had the opportunity to ensure members heard from me each week on our progress in these and other fights.
  • Standing strong in supporting parents’ rights to “opt out” of inappropriate testing — a groundswell I was proud to support and one that has since become a movement.
  • Taking on the tough legal fights in a commitment to aggressively defend our members and students against threats to their rights and to quality public education. We made inroads against unacceptable gag orders, bad receivership policies and more.
  • Pressing for equal treatment and equal opportunity for every member and local, regardless of ZIP code, and holding accountable any who would undermine those rights.

My grandmother’s pioneering example as a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union inspires me in this work. So, too, does the support of my family, especially my three wonderful children: Caitlyn, Max and A.J. Their constant support empowers me to be fearless — to speak truth to power, to hold individuals accountable and to take on the tough fights.

This is my passion and my avocation.

Now, I have the opportunity to carry forward the mission of the labor movement in a new role. I will be working closely with AFT President Randi Weingarten and the New York State AFL-CIO on an exciting new initiative to advance economic opportunities for women. I embrace this opportunity to carry forward at the national level the causes near and dear to my heart: advancing opportunities for women and empowering positive change through the labor movement.

It will be hard to move on from the work I love to do as NYSUT president, yet this new direction is made easier by the realization of all we have accomplished together. In deciding not to run for re-election this April, I am sustained by the knowledge that our union is stronger and more powerful than it was three years ago. Our members’ voices are being heard.

I am proud of what we have accomplished together and can say with confidence that I worked every day to the best of my ability and with utmost integrity to establish NYSUT as the voice that cannot be ignored.

Today, NYSUT is, without question, a force to be reckoned with. Our members are organized, energized and mobilized for the fights ahead. I thank each and every one of you for the honor of serving as your president, and look forward to partnering with you as I take on new challenges in the days ahead.

 

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Charter Schools owe the public a real explanation

February 14th, 2017

By Michael Mulgrew, President, The United Federation of Teachers


If charter schools are really public schools, why is so much of the information about their operations private – even secret? New York needs to do more now — especially with President Trump’s pick of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education — to make sure that charters operate for the benefit of the public, not charter operators and their management organizations.

Charters that are allowed to operate without strong oversight can be a disaster for children and their communities. Michigan, home to Secretary DeVos, has let unregulated charters — many of them for-profit operations — proliferate to the point that charters threaten the financial viability of the entire Michigan public school system. Meanwhile 80 percent of Michigan charters show lower student achievement than the state’s neighborhood public schools.

The need for more oversight in New York is clear. New York parents or taxpayers who want to know where public money is going — for instance, how much a charter school pays its top managers — have to dig through IRS filings. Parents who want to know who is donating millions of dollars to a charter chain — and whether those millions are being spent to help students — have to search the internet for clues. Trying to find out how much charters are paying their management organizations — and for what service — is nearly impossible.

As a group, New York’s charter schools are not transparent, despite receiving public dollars, despite requirements that they accept and educate all children, despite parent calls for greater information and accountability in their admissions, financial and student discipline policies.

Many New York charters remain remarkably resistant to public scrutiny. Charter leader Eva Moskowitz – a dedicated opponent of charter transparency – even went to court to prevent the New York State Comptroller from auditing her chain’s books. She couldn’t stop a city audit, however, that showed sloppy financial practices in her operation.

If the system had real transparency, it would give the public a better sense of how charters are doing at enrolling, educating and keeping all children, includes those with the highest needs, and let the Legislature determine real penalties for any charter’s failure to do so.

In New York City, we have charter and neighborhood public schools sharing the same building, yet the public school will have three times the number of special education student and four times the number of homeless children as the charter school.

Real transparency would also let the public know how much charter operators — and their management organizations — actually take home, including payments from board members and other contributors, along with the identities and fees of their vendors. It would help determine which charters actually need free space and which could be tapping their own bank accounts rather than relying on the taxpayers.

The public can go to the city’s Department of Education website for itemized data on every single public school. Why should charters be exempt from the idea that the spending of public money should happen in public?

Expanding charters while reducing oversight will be only part of the DeVos agenda, which will also include voucher schemes and other privatization efforts. If we had any doubt on their impact, just ask Michigan parents, who saw their neighborhood public schools drained of resources by an unregulated, “Wild West” charter sector, which not only failed to perform but weakened all schools. Students, whether urban, suburban or rural, lost. The only winners were those trying to make a profit off of Michigan school children.

But New York has the opportunity now to lead in the opposite direction and to protect a precious resource. To do that, we need to make sure policies for all schools are transparent and public dollars are being spent fairly and for the benefit of all children.

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NYSUT, PTA, NYSCOSS Launch “Public School Proud” Campaign to Show the Love

February 13th, 2017

The New York State PTA, New York State Council of School Superintendents  and New York State United Teachers today kicked off a statewide campaign to “show the love” to public education, inviting all New Yorkers to demonstrate individually – and through their school districts, communities and organizations – how important public schools are to society.

 

The non-partisan, non-political “Public School Proud” campaign is aimed at building support for public schools in the face of ongoing attacks and will complement efforts to gain more state aid for schools and build support for school budgets in May.  The campaign’s kickoff is timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14.  Participants will be invited to show their pride and love for public schools and post on social media using the hashtag #ILovePublicSchools.

 

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said the campaign’s components include a special website, www.nypublicschoolproud.org, which will serve as a clearinghouse for ideas, pictures and suggested opportunities for participants to demonstrate their advocacy for public schools.

 

“Our public schools are the foundation of our democracy and the lifeblood of our communities,” Magee said.  “We must support public education; defend it against attacks; and ensure that all students have opportunities to learn and grow in neighborhood public schools.”

 

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said the union would be encouraging elected leaders to participate in the campaign.  “We will be encouraging state and local leaders to join us in ‘showing the love’ for public education by wearing buttons and proclaiming their support for public schools.”

 

“Our mission is to make every child’s potential a reality, and each and every day our New York schools and educators make this possible,” the PTA’s Gracemarie Rozea offered.  “We are honored to stand with our great teachers to support our public schools and students. The ‘T’ in PTA matters and we all work together to support our children.”

“New York schools celebrate amazing achievements every day for our students.  From art programs, to career and technical education, to our Intel and Siemens award winners, to support for our English language learners and our students with disabilities, our schools do more with less every day,” said PTA Executive Director Kyle Belokopitsky.  “This campaign will importantly highlight the great successes of our students and the great successes in our schools.”

 

NYSCOSS Executive Director Charles Dedrick said, “The Council is proud to join this effort. Our public schools are truly institutions of, by and for the people.  Our mission is to educate all children, whatever their circumstance, wherever they come from, whenever they arrive.”

 

Campaign organizers invited other pro-education groups to join the campaign, and indicated others would be doing so in the coming weeks.

 

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care.  NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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NYSUT reacts to confirmation of DeVos as education secretary

February 7th, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. Feb. 7, 2017 – New York State United Teachers today released the following statement upon the U.S. Senate’s narrow confirmation amid bi-partisan opposition of billionaire donor Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary.

“The irony is inescapable: While educators are required to prove they are qualified in order to work in the classroom, the U.S. Senate has confirmed a dangerous ideologue with absolutely no experience or qualifications to lead the U.S. Department of Education.

“Betsy DeVos’ gave puzzling answers to basic questions about federal education policy. Her opposition to accountability for charter schools; unresolved conflicts of interest; and decades-long record of using her family’s fortune to undermine public education led hundreds of groups – and millions of Americans here in New York and across the country – to vigorously oppose her confirmation in phone calls, letters, e-mails and faxes. We are proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with them in defense of our public schools.

“We thank NYSUT members and all of those who fiercely advocated for students and public education during this fight. And, we again thank Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand for their leadership on behalf of public education. NYSUT and its members will be redoubling our fierce advocacy on behalf of public education and students. Public education is the foundation of our democracy. Now, more than ever, we must protect it.”

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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Mulgrew reacts to confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary

February 7th, 2017

On Feb. 7, 2017, Vice President Mike Pence cast a tiebreaking vote in the Senate to confirm Betsy DeVos as U.S. education secretary.

In response, UFT President Michael Mulgrew issued the following statement:

This process made clear to parents and teachers across the country what billionaire Betsy DeVos is all about. She has contempt for public education and wants to dismantle neighborhood public schools. We know the DeVos playbook. Now we have to stand together and work to protect what we value — our public schools.

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AFT President Randi Weingarten on the Confirmation of Betsy DeVos

February 7th, 2017

Statement of AFT President Randi Weingarten on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education.

“DeVos’ confirmation battle has a major silver lining: The public in public education has never been more visible or more vocal, and it is not going back in the shadows. This same public—from rural towns to urban centers, from liberals to conservatives—will now serve as a check and balance, and they will be fierce fighters on behalf of children. I am honored to be a soldier in that movement for children.

“It’s telling that even when Trump had full control of the legislative and executive branches, he could only get DeVos confirmed by an unprecedented tiebreaking vote by his vice president. That’s because DeVos shows an antipathy for public schools; a full-throttled embrace of private, for-profit alternatives; and a lack of basic understanding of what children need to succeed in school.

“If she wants to work with the educators who work hard every single day—in districts as diverse as McDowell County, W.Va., Detroit, and Scarsdale, N.Y.—to provide children the opportunities they deserve, we renew our invitation to have her visit America’s public schools and see the strategies that work for kids.

“But it’s more likely we’ll now hear the same trashing of public schools that the disrupters, the privatizers and the austerity hawks have used for the last two decades. That makes this a sad day for children.”

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