Andrew Pallotta: Together, We Can Properly Fund Our Public Schools, Colleges And Hospitals

Jan 25, 2018

The coming fiscal year is shaping up as a challenging one.

Let’s be clear: New Yorkers are under attack. The federal tax bill is going to hurt New Yorkers at the same time our State is facing a substantial budget deficit that threatens key services, including education and health care. This is a double whammy that will make negotiating a final state education budget more difficult.

The union I lead – New York State United Teachers – appreciates the complexity of the job that Governor Cuomo and the Legislature have in front of them, especially as the state looks to support students and middle-class families.

The teacher in me, however, sees areas where we can work together to make improvements.

Clearly, state aid to our public schools falls short of what’s needed.

The Educational Conference Board – of which NYSUT is a part – and the Board of Regents are both pressing for state aid increases that are at least double the $769 million that’s been proposed.

Our great public education system needs this more robust investment to continue the progress we’ve made. Ideally, the final school aid package will hit the 2 Billion-dollar increase that E-C-B says is needed.

If not, school districts will be forced to make tough decisions.

Do they cut programs that help the students they serve?

Or, do they raise taxes even higher on residents.

Neither path is acceptable. It’s why we will be making our voices heard in the corridors of Albany as we advocate for increased school aid, including much more support for communities serving the state’s most vulnerable populations.

We must also fight for sufficient funding for our SUNY, CUNY and our community college systems.

Everyone knows that a college degree is increasingly necessary in today’s complex world. It is the path to the middle class. I myself am a CUNY alumni, and know I would never have been able to teach or succeed professionally without my CUNY education.

Our community colleges are the best bargain anywhere -- affordable, accessible two-year colleges that offer critical job training and serve as a gateway to a higher education for hundreds of thousands of students.

It should be no surprise to anyone that enrollment at our public campuses has been soaring. The Governor’s Excelsior Scholarship program is opening the doors of opportunity to even more students. This is a good problem to have.

But, it also means that the state must invest more in full-time faculty at SUNY and CUNY.

The state must help SUNY and CUNY maintain and expand critical programs that serve students.

It must reverse proposed cuts to community colleges and expand offerings there as well.

And, the state must continue its support for public hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse.

SUNY hospitals are great healthcare institutions that treat all who walk through their doors -- regardless of whether they can pay -- while also training the next generation of doctors and health professionals.

We’re asking a lot of the state this year.

I know that.

But I also know that a state budget document ultimately reflects the priorities of those putting it together.

I’m confident these are the right priorities -- for students, from pre-kindergarten all the way up to those in post-graduate programs. These are priorities that will benefit working families and ensure New York’s economic vitality in the years to come.

I’m looking forward to working productively with the governor and Legislature to find ways to make the necessary improvements in this budget.

Let’s get to work.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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