With the deadline for passing a State Budget right around the corner, our lawmakers are cramming like a student studying for finals.
As a former teacher, I know this pattern well: It all comes down to the final exam. One bad grade can undermine a semester’s worth of work.
It is the same with our state’s support for schools, teachers and students. Over the years we have made tremendous strides.
New York’s high school graduation rate is at its highest level in a decade.
The achievement gap is narrowing.
The number of students taking college-level Advanced Placement exams has increased by nearly 100,000 since 2007.
According to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the number of school districts in financial stress has been cut by more than half.
Last May, for the third consecutive year, more than 99 percent of school budgets passed on the first try.
These are all important indicators of progress, and they are all the result of the hard work done in the past. But they can all be undone with a bad result on the final exam – this year’s budget.
Make no mistake: New York’s public education system is on the upswing. New Yorkers have every reason to be confident in teachers and pleased with the state’s public schools.
To give credit where credit is due, the Legislature and governor have – over the past few years – supported robust investments in school aid.
While schools didn’t get every dollar they needed, strong school aid increases have helped districts to restore programs and staff – and to provide students with the support they need to thrive. In education, money does matter and we appreciate that our leaders recognize that fact.
This year is no different. As budget negotiations get down to the nitty-gritty, we’re again at the Capitol pressing for a much larger investment in public education. With the Regents and statewide education groups in agreement that a school aid increase of at least $1.5 billion is needed, we’re fighting for at least that amount.
Most of that additional money should go to Foundation Aid, a category of financial support that helps to restore equity in school funding. Our low-wealth communities need additional state aid to continue to move forward. More money is also needed for professional development and for helping school districts to properly serve an influx of English language learners.
As the state’s budget deadline approaches, we are heartened by signs of progress towards a greater increase in state education funding.
For one, the state’s improving economy has led to a higher revenue forecast. Both the Senate and Assembly agree there will be more money – hundreds of millions of dollars more -- available to spend in the budget.
This new-found money should be invested in public schools, as well as in our SUNY and CUNY systems. Students from pre-kindergarten all the way up through graduate school need additional programs and services.
I can promise you this: That money will be used wisely.
This year, like every year, a greater state investment is public education will pay huge dividends for taxpayers and – most importantly – for students in our public schools.
Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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