As a nation, we’ve spent generations fighting for fairness and equality for all of our people. The march toward justice may be long and indirect – with many setbacks and disappointments along the way – but we move forward together.
We move forward toward a society in which everyone has the same rights, freedoms and opportunities – regardless of race, religion, gender and sexual identity.
This is a core value for unions like mine. We are founded on the notion that an injury to one is an injury to all. We can’t meet our full potential as a society if we deny our neighbors the chance to achieve their own dreams and opportunities.
That’s why we must move forward toward a public school system that provides equal opportunity and equal access to a quality education to every child in every part of our state.
Sadly, on that part of our journey, we still have a long way to go.
If you visit a dozen school districts across the state, you’ll see what I mean. In some districts, students learn in state-of-the art classrooms that are filled with modern technology and classroom materials. But in other districts – sometimes just a few miles away -- you’ll find mold clinging to the walls and ceilings, and students learning from outdated textbooks in overcrowded classrooms.
In New York State, education isn’t fair because education funding isn’t fair. This is particularly true in school districts that serve poorer students, and children of color.
This persistent underfunding is robbing our children – who don’t have the luxury of a do-over — of basic opportunities. It’s holding children back at the very beginning of their journey to achieve their full potential. It’s keeping generations trapped in the same cycle of poverty and despair.
The state owes $4.05 billion in aid to more than 400 school districts. The massive shortfall has wreaked havoc on school systems at a time when they’re facing increasing demands due to the COVID crisis and the challenges of safely operating schools.
Over the next four to five years, experts estimate that New York State will face a $60 billion dollar deficit. That’s why we need commonsense, annually generated revenue streams right here at home to address our state’s fiscal crisis. It’s time to raise taxes on the state’s ultra-millionaires and billionaires.
Here in New York State, the top 1 percent pay a lower tax rate than middle class and low-income earners. From 1980 to 2018, billionaires paid 79 percent less in taxes. Meanwhile, from 1990 through 2020, their wealth increased by 1,130 percent.
Investing in infrastructure, schools, and jobs isn’t just the responsibility of the middle class. It’s the responsibility of all citizens, even those who fly in private jets and count their savings in billions of dollars. To help Fund Our Future, it’s time for the ultrawealthy to pay their fair share in taxes.
A tax on ultra-millionaires would raise $2.7 billion … a wealth tax on New York's billionaires would raise $5.5 billion … and restoring New York State’s corporate tax rate to 2017 levels would raise $9 billion dollars.
Just imagine what that money could pay for — textbooks, classroom computers and school building repairs. And it could mean more teachers, school nurses, guidance counselors and other critical staff in our schools.
But more importantly, that funding could pay for something that is literally priceless – a real opportunity for every single child in New York.
Because we’re committed to striving toward a fair and just society. And that starts with providing a high-quality public education for our state’s most vulnerable citizens — our children.
Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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