Karen Magee: Education Advocacy Does Makes A Difference

Mar 24, 2016

For the state budget cycle that began in January and for the expiring terms of several members of the Board of Regents, we’re coming down the homestretch and the winds of change are blowing.

At the Capitol, both the Assembly and Senate have introduced their one-house budget resolutions.  Leaders are sitting down with the governor for the nitty-gritty of deciding how the state will fund public schools, SUNY and CUNY and the state’s community colleges next year.

While nothing is ever certain — except death and taxes, of course — it appears that Albany is poised to deliver a healthy state aid increase to schools.

Clearly, billions in new school funding is needed to restore equity and help school districts turn the corner after devastating budget cuts during the Great Recession.

The budget picture for public higher education is less clear.  Yet, there are hopeful signs that, in a year in which the state enjoys a $5.4 billion-dollar surplus, there will be funding increases for public hospitals and higher education.

Across the street at the State Education Department, the terms of two long-time members of the Board of Regents are expiring and a third Regent has resigned.  The Legislature recently elected three new Regents and, next month, a new chancellor takes over — one who is expected to lead the Board in an entirely new direction.

We’re hopeful — even optimistic — that ‘test and punish’ is finally on its way out.

We feel good about ushering in a new era where educators are free to teach and inspire.

The skies ahead indeed look brighter than they have for some time.

It’s an opportune moment to ask:  How did we get here?  How do we maintain this momentum we’ve built?

When I was elected president of NYSUT, I vowed that NYSUT would be the voice that could not be ignored.  I promised to work to unite students, parents and educators to fight for what’s right . . .

. . . The right funding levels to support public schools, colleges and hospitals.

. . . The right way to assess student progress — and evaluate educators.

. . . The right way to assist struggling schools and communities. 

. . . The right education policies that ensure the voices of students, parents and teachers are heard.

. . . And, the right tone to value and respect educators and the organized labor movement.

We got to this point because, over the last two years, NYSUT built stronger coalitions with students, parents and education advocacy groups.  Together, we’ve raised public awareness about the misuse of state tests and other important issues at rallies… at education forums… and in the news media.

Together with parents and others, we’re building a movement… using advocacy as a springboard to press for the changes we want to see.

This ongoing advocacy — our collective voices working together — is how we’ve helped swing the pendulum towards policies in public education that provide an environment for students to learn and for teachers to teach.

We’re not done, by any means.  There is still work to do.

And, I’ve got news for you:  We’re not going away.

Although it appears we are at the cusp of change, strong advocacy for public education must continue — not just in an election year but every year — until our schools are fully funded and there is complete joy in both teaching and learning.

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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