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Andrew Pallotta: Coming Back Stronger

To say that the past year has been tough would be an understatement. We’re weathering a once-in-a-generation pandemic that continues to stretch us all to our limits, particularly our health care workers and educators. But the state budget approved earlier this month brings hope for a brighter future for education and working families in New York state.

Thanks to decades of ongoing NYSUT advocacy on behalf of students, educators and working families, this state budget year we made historic gains.

The biggest win was truly progressive tax reform. For too long the middle class has shouldered a disproportionate share of our state’s tax burden, but no more. Our state lawmakers heard our call. They instituted historic tax change to ensure that the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share to support public education, public higher education and health care.

Thanks to NYSUT advocacy, for those making over $1 million, income-tax rates will increase from 8.82 percent to 9.65 percent. Those making over $5 million will be taxed at 10.3 percent. Those earning over $25 million will pay 10.9 percent in taxes.

Additionally, for the next three years, the corporate tax rate will rise from 6.5 percent to 7.25 percent for businesses earning over $5 million. It’s projected that these tax changes — combined —will raise over $4.3 billion by 2023.

A progressive tax policy, in combination with resources from the federal government, will help New York’s pandemic recovery start off on the right foot.

And in a move that follows nearly 15 years of NYSUT advocacy, we will finally have a full phase-in of the Foundation Aid formula for NYS public schools. This is truly an historic win!

Over the next three years, every school district in New York state will see at least a 2 percent increase in the foundation aid they receive. This will provide a welcome boost for districts statewide, many of which fiscally struggled to meet students’ academic and social-emotional needs even before the pandemic hit. And that need only grew worse in the months after the pandemic arrived.

State lawmakers have also committed to eliminating the TAP Gap over the next three years. This is another big win. The TAP Gap –the difference between what students owe for tuition and the maximum TAP grant ? is a huge burden for our public colleges and universities who are left on the hook for whatever dollars the TAP Grant doesn’t cover.

There’s also good news for our state’s community colleges, whose state funding is tied to enrollment. This budget provides SUNY community colleges with a base aid increase and hold harmless language to protect them from enrollment fluctuations. That money will help these two-year institutions weather pandemic-driven enrollment fluctuations. 

After years of advocacy, I’m proud of what NYSUT achieved this legislative session on behalf of public education and working people.

Now, as the rest of the legislative session wraps up, we’ll continue our advocacy to ensure that districts actually use the extra funding they receive to improve schools for students and educators – not just stockpile it in reserve funds. This is a time of unprecedented need; and NYSUT’s goal is not to just help New York state communities return to normal. Our goal is to help our communities come back stronger.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 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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