Karen Magee: Calling Governor "Out Of Touch"

Feb 10, 2015

Governor Cuomo has made it clear: He doesn’t respect teachers or public education.  He doesn’t understand the stress placed on students by high-stakes tests.  Nor does he seem to have any use for parents’ voice, or the democratic way that communities build their local school budgets.

In carrying the education agenda of billionaire hedge managers, our governor is increasingly out of touch.  He refuses to see how chronic funding shortfalls — and devastating inequity in how education dollars are distributed — have worsened the effects of poverty in schools.

The union I lead — New York State United Teachers – has repeatedly invited the governor to attend community forums.  It’s important for the governor to hear, firsthand, about what students, parents and educators want for their already strong public schools.

The governor won’t do it — even after teachers stormed social media with more than 10,000 invitations — invitations that are also on billboards all around the capital.  They read, “You talk about teachers… Try listening to them.”

The governor noted recently that NYSUT is giving him “a little grief” about his test-and-punish evaluation plan and his ‘blame the teacher’ and ‘bash the schools’ budget.

Newsflash, Governor.

It’s not just NYSUT, or even teachers, who believe your plan is all about political retribution and rewarding your billionaire campaign contributors.

A highly regarded superintendent in suburban Rochester called your budget an “all-out assault on public education, teachers, children, families and local control.”

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina rejected your idea to expand the state’s failed experiment with charter schools.  And, she gave a thumbs-down to your proposal to more heavily weight standardized tests for high-stakes decisions.

The governor has also refused to release school aid runs.  He’s holding the democratic school budgeting process hostage to his ‘my way or else’ education plan.

A highly respected superintendent in Bethlehem, an Albany suburb, says the governor is – quote — “using school aid as a pawn in the state budget process.”

He was being kind.

The Kingston schools superintendent says Cuomo is playing a “childish game.”

And the Educational Conference Board, which represents all the major education groups, points out that school aid runs are — quote — “a basic government function” that Cuomo is ignoring.

The Governor’s plan to provide huge tax credits for the wealthy who donate to private or religious schools is also a dud.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the non-partisan League of Women Voters have strongly denounced Cuomo’s backdoor voucher scheme.  The League’s Barbara Bartoletti concluded that giving state tax credits to subsidize the personal philanthropy of the very rich is unconstitutional and — quote — “bad public policy.  Public dollars should go to public education.”

The way Cuomo is attacking teachers and catering to billionaire hedge fund managers hasn’t escaped the notice of Republicans, either.

Congressman Chris Gibson represents a district that includes much of the WAMC audience. The respected congressman meets regularly with educators and has a pulse on what schools need.

Congressman Gibson called Cuomo’s plan “wrong-headed” and provided an astute observation.  Congressman Gibson said, “This idea that Cuomo thinks he is basically going to ride roughshod over education and somehow end up with a better product… I don’t see how he does that.”

That’s exactly right.

Governor Cuomo must abandon his failed billionaires’ agenda and start listening to students, parents and teachers.  We are the experts about what public schools need. Listening is not only for the governor’s own good, but for the good of the state.  And, most of all, it’s for the good of this state’s nearly 3 million public schoolchildren. 

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

 

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