Education shouldn’t be budgetary scapegoat
February 11, 2011
By Richard C. Iannuzzi
"You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Bob Dylan
Members of my union New York State United Teachers like many Americans, live through and see the magnitude of the fiscal crisis facing our nation and our state every day. We see it when jobs are threatened and programs are cut, and we see it in the mood of the children and patients in our care. While things are starting to turn around, we know that more is still needed.
Educators and health care professionals have been sharing the pain brought on by this recession. Schools in New York are trying to get by with nearly $2.3 billion less in state education aid than three years ago, and now Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing an additional $1.5 billion cut in education spending below last year’s level. He is also proposing a 10 percent cut to our system of public higher education, which would compound the impact of years of devastating cuts. This is coupled with an ill conceived and treacherous tax cap bill introduced by the governor and passed by the state Senate. Health care has endured similarly devastating cuts and is facing even more.
Likewise, you don’t need a weatherman to interpret the cold wind of teacher bashing, and anti public employee sentiment. The biting chill is fed by fear mongers and ideologues who prey on the suffering of working families to advance their own agenda and that of the privileged wealthy who have profited throughout the recession. Not so coincidentally, many on the so called “Committee to Save New York,” advocates for much of the governor’s agenda, fall into that category.
Unfortunately, the governor’s insistence on always linking educational performance to a meaningless and obscure statistical “34th” ranking doesn’t help. I know firsthand that the governor and his staff have been made aware that education in New York has been ranked at or near the top by many well respected and independent resources. Education Week’s Quality Counts 2011, a rigorous grading of state educational systems by one of the most respected education publications in the nation, ranked New York second overall among 50 states; ranked our state first in two key measures of progress in closing the achievement gap; and gave New York an “A” in the area of standards, assessment and accountability.
NYSUT is responding through the media and in face to face advocacy to ensure the state Legislature has the information it needs as it deliberates the budget. Our message is clear, What must be on the table is real shared sacrifice: on both the spending and revenue side. Public employees have been there and are willing to do more. Humiliating public workers and their unions or dismantling collective bargaining rights are not the way to turn New York’s economy around and are not part of the solution.
It’s time to for the blustering in Albany to stop. Everyone needs to come in from the cold winds, thaw out and work collaboratively toward the fair and equitable solutions we all need. On the table are the future of public education and the future of New York you can’t separate the two. (Iannuzzi is President of New York State United Teachers.)