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Commentary & Opinion

Karen Magee: Ending Public Education’s Groundhog Day

In the classic movie Groundhog Day, the main character — played famously by actor and comedian Bill Murray — finds he is trapped in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over again. As this year’s legislative session nears, I can’t help but think that students — and public education — are having a Groundhog Day experience of their own.

This coming year … just like last year … and the year before that … and the year before that … the state’s public schools and colleges are under-funded.

While the Legislature has supported record aid increases the last few years, New York State still owes public schools $3-point-8 BILLION dollars in funding that was promised and never delivered. It’s called Foundation Aid. The state agreed way back in 2006 to invest this new money so that children — especially those in high-need communities — would have the programs, resources and opportunities they deserve.

Unfortunately, that bill is still due. We will be back at the Capitol next month to firmly but professionally seek collection. The union I lead as president — New York State United Teachers — is joining with other education stakeholders to again press the state to renew its commitment to Foundation Aid ... and the equity that’s at the essence of the state’s promise.

In addition, we want the state to invest more heavily in programs for English language Learners. The number of new Americans in our schools … students who are still learning English … has skyrocketed over the last decade to more than 218,000.

While most E-L-L students attend school in urban areas, our suburban and rural districts are seeing rising numbers of students who have not yet mastered English.

School districts are finding it a struggle to offer students the comprehensive, base services they are required to provide under the law.

That’s why NYSUT is strongly supporting the creation of a new school aid category for E-L-Ls, and the investment of $200 million in the next state budget to help school districts bridge the gaps until the state can fully fund Foundation Aid.

The Groundhog Day feel isn’t reserved for our K-12 students and schools.

Our SUNY and CUNY campuses are economic engines across the state, even as they deliver affordable, quality college educations to tens of thousands of students from middle class and working families.

This year … like last year … and the year before… (Well, you get the picture!) … New York’s public higher education systems are also woefully under-funded.

SUNY campuses are currently receiving about $100 million LESS from the state this year than they did in 2010, despite rising costs. CUNY campuses face a similar dire budget crunch. The state MUST do its part in 2017 and invest more heavily in SUNY, CUNY and its excellent network of community colleges.

Lawmakers have traditionally been supportive of investing in public education. As we enter the holiday season, I’m leaning towards optimism that, despite a state budget deficit, the Legislature and Governor will again work collaboratively with us to help students and public education.

In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors — he’s the stranded meteorologist played by Bill Murray — comes around to the notion that he must re-examine his life and his priorities, and make necessary changes.

Here’s to Albany re-examining its commitment to SUNY, CUNY and its more than 700 K-12 school districts… and making them more of a priority in 2017.

Karen E. Magee is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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