The first signs of Spring are often its sounds—the first chirping robin, the honking of geese travelling North or the crack of the bat at a ballgame on a crisp afternoon.
As the Legislature and the Governor argue over the final details of the state budget, another sound has been floating through the air — the voices of New Yorkers speaking directly to their elected leaders.
We heard the voices of schoolchildren asking why their art and music programs have been cut; their classrooms crowded; and, their favorite teacher looking so stressed.
We heard the voices of parents, too. Parents are angry at four years of state budgets that have undermined their children’s education. And they are frustrated at the State Education Department’s policy shift from emphasizing learning to over-emphasizing standardized testing.
We heard the voices of teachers from the eastern most tip of Long Island, to the shores of Lake Erie, to the northern reaches of New York State. Those voices have been loudly telling the truth … telling it like it is to their elected leaders .
Teachers’ voices are echoing throughout the state with a vigor that barely hides how tired they are of the constant demands to do more with less … and less … and less — and then suffering attacks from those who pretend to know what’s best for public education. Those voices are offering heart-felt thoughts on how the state’s obsession with testing is hurting the profession they love and stressing the students they serve.
The voices of college faculty and health professionals also have echoed through the corridors of power. These voices demand to know how New York is going to fulfill its economic promise if the state keeps starving its public colleges and universities. And, they question how New York can be a progressive state if it allows quality medical institutions like SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn to close, leaving tens of thousands of poor and working-class families without a neighborhood hospital to serve their healthcare needs.
Students, parents, teachers, health professionals … they’ve lifted their voices and joined them in a powerful chorus. They’ve used their voices to call on the Legislature and Governor to reverse state cuts to education — cuts that have schools operating today with $1.1 billion dollars less in state funding than in 2008-09.
Most importantly, they used their voices in November to vote for candidates who promised to value public education and who committed to making a greater investment in our public schools, colleges and healthcare facilities.
But now, with the budget due, those voices have subsided and turned into whispers about what’s being heard leaking from under the closed Capital doors.
Ghandi tells us that, “the human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience.”
We will know soon if this Spring the halls of the Capital will echo the proud voices of conscience standing for our children’s futures.
Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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