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Commentary & Opinion

Andrew Pallotta: Albany Must Keep Its Promises

If you make a promise, you should keep it.

We can all agree on that, right?
Well, New York State has promised for more than a decade to fully fund its public schools.

In fact, Albany is under court order to do so.

State aid to public schools has increased substantially since the end of the Great Recession. We credit lawmakers and the governor for making that greater investment. Still, the truth is that state funding levels are still far short of where they need to be – and what was promised.

More than $4 billion dollars short.

As we prepare for the upcoming legislative session and budget, I throw that cold, hard fact out there because the needs of public schools are real.

The Educational Conference Board – of which NYSUT is a member – recently released a report calling for a state aid increase of $2 Billion dollars in the next state budget, or about a 2.8 percent overall spending increase. That would barely make a dent in the state funding owed to schools from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, but it’s a start.

The state would need to increase aid to school districts by $1.5 billion dollars just to account for increased inflation and rising costs.

Of course, I fervently believe this is the best investment that New York State can make.  I strongly urge the Legislature and Governor to make good on the state’s promise and to begin phasing in the money owed to its schools.

New York has top quality public schools.  Graduation rates and test scores are rising, and – this past May – voters again signaled their confidence in public education by approving nearly every school budget.  New York’s public schools open the doors of opportunity to all, providing every single child with the knowledge and understanding to pursue their dreams. 

NYSUT will be out there again in the coming months.  With our partners in ECB, we’ll be making a strong case for this $2 billion investment – and for the state to keep its promises to students and families.

We know that resources do matter.  They help lower class sizes and provide Advanced Placement classes.  They help pay for sports and extracurricular activities, and enable school districts to offer help to English Language Learners and to kids who are struggling. 

More state aid means that students will be better able to meet higher expectations, and continue on to productive careers – or to college.  Either way, a highly educated citizenry contributes to our economy and to a better society for all.

We know that this may prove to be a difficult year.  We are cognizant of the state’s looming budget deficit and the devastating impact of federal cuts – and the Republican tax plan – on middle-class New Yorkers.

But we also know that public schools are responsible for preparing today’s students for success in a rapidly changing world.

That’s why NYSUT – with is coalition partners in E-C-B and other groups – are going to fight for our students and our schools.

We’re going to again need to advocate for Albany to keep its promises.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, 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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