Fred Kowal: 2016 UUP initiatives

Dec 24, 2015

Last December, UUP proposed a series of legislative initiatives that we pursued in 2015. We focused on student debt relief for recent SUNY graduates, and maintenance of effort plan so tuition increases aren’t used to pay basic costs like lights and heat. 

We made an impact. The Legislature overwhelmingly approved an MOE bill, which unfortunately, was vetoed by the governor earlier this month. We will continue to push for these initiatives in 2016.

And I believe we will make an impact with our set of legislative action items for 2016, proposals that will benefit our students and keep SUNY at the forefront of progressive change.

To begin, we will ask the Legislature to establish the Green Energy Intellectual Capital Investment Fund, which would create and expand renewable energy courses at SUNY tech colleges.

This proposal also forges an important link between START-UP NY clean energy companies and our tech campuses. Clean energy companies that locate on or near SUNY campuses through START-UP NY would pay a percentage of the new program’s cost. The state would match that funding.

Those funds would be used by SUNY tech colleges to hire more full-time faculty and staff, and upgrade and buy new equipment and machinery, and add courses. Our students win, our tech colleges win and START-UP NY businesses win.

We also propose Recruiting and Educating Teachers for All, or RETA, a new opportunity program to recruit underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students as teachers.

The program is meant to increase diversity in New York’s teaching ranks. It will also create a pipeline of qualified, energetic young teachers to districts facing teacher shortages. Students would receive financial assistance and academic support from counselors and advisers to help them earn their teaching degrees, as is done in SUNY’s successful Educational Opportunity Program.

With New York facing a growing teacher shortage, we need RETA, now more than ever. Enrollments in public and private college teacher education programs in New York dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2008 to 2013.

Diversity in teaching is also on the decline. The potential pool of teachers of color and underrepresented groups continues to shrink—thanks in large part to the State Education Department’s flawed implementation of the state’s teacher certification process and its unwillingness to address teacher educators’ concerns.

Increasing diversity in teaching is essential. It provides significant social benefits, such as reinforcing the value of a student’s own identity as well as providing more role models for all students.

RETA is a workable, realistic plan that will bring more diversity to the classroom and create an influx of new, energetic teachers to districts that need them.

In the same vein, our third proposal would bar privateers from profiting from student teachers by charging—and recharging—them fees to take mandatory exams. UUP proposes a change to the state procurement law that would require SED to pay testing companies to develop exams and collect student fees to take those tests.

As it stands now, the law allows testing companies to contract with the state to develop and assess tests for free. The companies profit by charging future teachers to take the exams.

And it can get expensive. Students often end up spending $1,000 or more to take and retake tests. The test companies are slow to fix flawed exams, since they profit each time a student takes a test.

This must end. Now.

Our final proposal calls for the creation of a Buffalo Health Care Teaching Fellows Program at the University at Buffalo, which is the only SUNY medical college without an affiliated teaching hospital.

This new program would fund the hiring of as many as 75 health care teaching fellows—doctors who would teach, mentor and work with 750 residents at nearly a dozen Buffalo area hospitals.

The program would help stabilize the relationship between the medical school and the hospitals where the residents are placed. Most importantly, this program would train health providers for the new world created by the Affordable Care Act.

These four initiatives look forward, not backward. They are viable, inventive alternatives that I believe will solidify SUNY as the nation’s premiere public higher education system.

UUP and our 35,000 members look forward to working with Governor Cuomo, state lawmakers and SUNY to make these proposals a reality.  And on behalf of our 35,000 members, I would like to wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthy New Year! 

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.  

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