Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for Alliance for Quality Education, a group that co-hosts Lobby Day with NYSUT, speaks in Albany on Tuesday.Teachers from across the state began descending on Albany Tuesday for a series of high-profile meetings with lawmakers, a small but significant part of their unions’ overall lobbying strategies.
A high school marching band helped start off the New York State United Teachers’ lobby day in the late morning, leading hundreds bused in from around the state on a parade outside the state Capitol building. At a rally, the crowd of teachers, students, and community organizers asked for more school funding and called Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, which increases state aid by 4.4 percent, “bananas” because it wasn’t enough.
Today’s message will feature a different union — the city’s United Federation of Teachers — with different budget priorities and a more powerful audience. The UFT wants money for teacher training centers, community schools, and child care, and it has reserved speaking slots at its rally for the legislature’s three leaders: Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, Senate Republican Dean Skelos and Senate Democrat Jeff Klein.
The two lobby days, which include union members and their supporters, are among the most visible manifestations of the unions’ annual behind-the-scenes effort to influence how state policies are shaped and money is spent. Each year, New York’s teacher unions spend millions to organize large rallies, launch statewide advertising campaigns and pay teams of staff lobbyists to work directly with elected officials on specific legislation.
Jeff Li, who stepped down at Teach for America to return to the classroom this year, is one of seven city educators on the state's new Teacher Advisory Council.
Among the 23 teachers from across the state that Education Commissioner John King has tapped to give him feedback about how policy is playing out in the classroom, seven work in New York City schools.
The commissioner's Teacher Advisory Council, announced today, will meet periodically to discuss the policy agenda that the state's Board of Regents is advancing. That agenda, aimed at helping more students become college ready, includes adopting more challenging standards; overhauling low-performing schools; facilitating data-driven instruction; and improving teacher preparation and evaluation.
"The teachers on the Council will give direct feedback from the frontlines of reform – the classroom," King said in a statement. "The most important thing we can do as educators is maintain focus on the students, and these extraordinary teachers will help us do just that."
The teacher council parallels ones that already exist for superintendents, school boards, and other groups, according to Dennis Tompkins, a State Education Department spokesman.
One of the city teachers on the board is Jeff Li, the former head of Teach For America's New York City office who returned to the classroom this fall.
It didn't take long for the complexities of New York State politics to make strange bedfellows out of two rival education advocacy groups.
This week, New York State United Teachers endorsed Jeff Klein, a Democratic state Senator from the Bronx with a reputation for rebuffing teachers union interests. Earlier this summer, Klein also took in money from StudentsFirstNY, a group that a union-backed coalition is attacking for its board members' Republican ties.
Over the past week, accepting money from StudentsFirstNY has received a lot of scrutiny from the coalition, called New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which is made up of labor unions and community-based organizations. At protests, it has tacitly warned elected officials to reject StudentsFirstNY because some of its funding comes from people working in the private sector with ideologically different positions on education policy. And while most of their energy will be focused on the 2013 mayoral candidates, the coalition punctuated its point this week when it gleefully released a list of state and city politicians who agreed to reject contributions from StudentsFirstNY.
"Taking StudentsFirst money is bad for New York," Billy Easton, executive director of Alliance for Quality Education, one of the groups that gets funding from the state teachers union, said last week.
All eyes might have been on the teacher evaluation shield bill this week, but that wasn't the only education issue lawmakers tackled this spring. A host of other education bills traveled through both houses of the legislature in recent months, with varying success. Here's a brief rundown of those bills and how they fared:
Senate, Assembly pave way for universal kindergarten in New York City
In New York City, more than 3,000 children — or 4 percent — of all five-year-olds are not enrolled in kindergarten. Expanding that service has become a pet issue for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other council members, but it first required a change to state law that would allow the city to revise age regulations. Currently, the city requires only that six-year-olds attend school.
The bill passed easily through the Assembly earlier this month, 141-1, and passed in the Senate Thursday just after 9 p.m. The passage doesn't automatically enact universal kindergarten, however. To do that, city officials will have to agree to new age regulations. Mayor Bloomberg initially raised questions about the expansion's cost — he estimated the additional enrollment could run $30 million a year — but the city Department of Education has since come out in support of the legislation.
The bill still needs a final signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in order to become a law. "We are reviewing the legislation," said a Cuomo spokesman.
Across the state, school districts are inching toward teacher evaluation deals one week before a deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month.
According to NYSUT, the state teachers union, 100 school districts have agreed on how to put new evaluations in place and 400 districts "report making progress." That leaves just over 200 districts that, like New York City, are nowhere near agreeing with their local unions on new evaluation systems.
Cuomo said last month that if districts do not settle on new evaluations by next week, he would use the budget amendment process to change the state evaluation law. Last year, in a hint of what the changes might entail, the governor pushed state policy-makers to double test scores' weight, from 20 to 40 percent, in an action that drew a successful legal challenge from the union.
The city's bid to "turn around" 33 struggling schools is politically motivated and should be quashed, according to the head of the city's principals union.
The city is days away from submitting a formal request for State Education Commissioner John King to release millions of dollars in federal funding for the 33 schools even though the city has not yet negotiated new evaluations with the teachers union.
Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, sent a letter to King Tuesday urging him to reject the city's request. Logan charges that the city's announcement last month that it would abandon two in-process school improvement strategies, "transformation" and "restart," was meant only to sidestep a requirement that the city negotiate with CSA and the United Federation of Teachers. Without an agreement, King froze federal funds to the schools last month.
"Simply stated, if the Turnaround model were the most educationally sound plan of intervention for the 33 schools, it would have been selected for any or all of them in 2010 and 2011," Logan writes. "It was not. It is being proposed now only as a means of evading the ... evaluation requirements."
The city is required to negotiate new evaluations in order to receive federal funds and, in a plan Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month, additional state school aid. But Cuomo also said he would push changes to the state's 2010 evaluation law if districts do not adopt new evaluations by mid-month. City officials are lobbying legislators to take that route, even though a statewide teachers union, NYSUT, has said it is on the verge of agreement for nearly all districts other than New York City.
Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo slashed school aid across the state. This year, he plans to add back much of what was lost — but there's a catch.
Districts will get the money only if they roll out controversial new teacher evaluations according to an accelerated timeline, Cuomo announced in a hotly anticipated speech in Albany today.
He also outlined a procedure by which new evaluations could be put into effect even without local unions' agreement, which a state law passed in 2010 requires.
Cuomo kicked off the procedure today with an ultimatum: He demanded that the state teachers union, NYSUT, drop its lawsuit over the evaluations and settle on a “protocol” for new evaluations with the State Education Department within 30 days.
"If they can't do that then we'll do it for them," Cuomo said in his address today. Using the state’s unusual Article 7 process, Cuomo could use a budget amendment to change the state’s teacher evaluation law — possibly by striking the requirement for districts and unions to negotiate some details locally.
For now, local districts and their unions would still have to sign off on evaluation plans even if NYSUT resolves its issues with the state. Districts that do so by Sept. 1 will be able to compete for $250 million in state funds, Cuomo said today. If they miss that deadline, they will have until Jan. 17, 2013 — a year from today — to settle on new evaluations or give up the 4 percent increase in state aid.
"The equation is simple at the end of the day: No evaluations, no money, period,” Cuomo said.
NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi on the steps of the State Education Department building today
ALBANY — Nearly 200 teaching jobs across the state could be lost as a result of a decision to freeze federal funding to low-performing schools, according to the head of the state teachers union.
New York State United Teachers President Richard Ianuzzi detailed the potential job casualties this afternoon on the steps of the State Education Department building, where the Board of Regents was holding its monthly meeting. He was joined by union officials from six districts and superintendents from Albany and nearby Schenectady — but not from New York City, where he blamed politics for impeding progress on teacher evaluations.
The press conference was a response to State Education Commissioner John King's decision last week to suspend federal funding set aside for the state's lowest performing schools, known as School Improvement Grants, in all 10 districts that were set to receive the money. Some of the districts, including New York City, failed to negotiate new teacher evaluations for those schools by a Dec. 31 deadline, and King said the other districts' evaluation plans didn't meet state standards.
"What is happening here, ladies and gentlemen, is that the State Education Department has decided that being a bully and acting like a bureaucrat is better than meeting the needs of New York State's most vulnerable children," Ianuzzi said at the press conference.
The money still could be restored. King gave all districts a 30-day period to appeal the decision and revise their system to meet his concerns, which he spelled out in letters last week. District officials at the press conference said that they planned to follow that process.
New York will get new terms for high- and low-performing schools — and new ways to define good and bad performance — under a proposed accountability plan designed to replace the requirements of No Child Left Behind.
The proposal, which was released in draft form late today and will be discussed by the Board of Regents on Monday, is the result of two months of planning in response to the Obama administration's offer to waive some of the decade-old federal law’s requirements, including one that requires full proficiency by 2014. In exchange, states must to commit to prioritizing college readiness, setting guidelines for teacher and principal evaluations, and holding schools and districts accountable for their students' performance on state tests.
Under the proposal, the bulk of the state's testing program would remain unchanged. But elementary and middle school students would take science tests; the bar to be considered proficient on high school exams would be raised; and proficiency would be calculated not just by whether students met certain benchmarks, but by how much they improved.
Schools that fall short would not get extra funding to pay for tutoring services, an arrangement that has shown mixed results. Instead, they would get extra money to carry out more of the initiatives that the Regents themselves have endorsed, such as improving teacher training and revising curriculum standards.
Five percent of low-scoring schools would become Priority Schools and have to undergo federally mandated school overhaul approaches. Another 10 percent would become Focus Schools, and their districts would have to develop plans to improve them.
For the first time, school districts will be evaluated with the same scrutiny as schools were under NCLB.
"Since district policies often contribute to why schools have low performance for specific groups of students," the proposal says, "districts must play a lead role in helping schools to address this issue."
New York City, a district certain to house many Focus and Priority schools, will not be evaluated as one entire district, according to a provision. Instead, each of the city's 32 districts would be evaluated based on state test scores for its schools.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (right, blue shirt) and NYSUT President Richard Ianuzzi listen to a teacher at a roundtable at NYSUT's Albany headquarters today.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Teamwork was the watchword as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan took his national back-to-school bus tour to Albany today.
Duncan has taken to the road to celebrate teachers, and to convince them that his reform efforts will not undercut their interests.
In New York, many teachers are still skittish of a new teacher evaluation plan that will, for the first time, allow school districts to judge them based on their students' test scores. The state and city teachers union struck the agreement with state education officials in May, in part to improve the state's Race to the Top application.
And so, in appearances at the state teachers union headquarters and the State Capitol, Duncan and state officials emphasized that New York's reform policies are the result of a team effort between state education officials and its teachers unions. Those policies won the state nearly $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds last week.
"Where other states were not able to reach consensus, New York was," Duncan said.
New York State United Teachers, the state chapter of the city teachers union, just announced that the union is on the brink of adding about 500 1,200 lifeguards into its fold. The lifeguards used to belong to another union, but they sought out NYSUT hoping it would offer "stronger representation," according to the press release below.
Most of NYSUT's 600,000 members are teachers (and most of those are in New York City) but the union also represents some groups that aren't affiliated with schools, including hospital nurses, group home workers, and day care providers. Read background on how lifeguards got unionized here.
Here's the NYSUT press release:
Lifeguards join NYSUT seeking a voice, better pay & improved safety
ALBANY, N.Y. February 25, 2009 — Along with their whistles, sun block and rescue buoys, some 1,200 state lifeguards, including nearly 500 who protect beachgoers on Long Island’s shores, will be carrying something else on their stands this summer — a NYSUT union card.
New York State United Teachers announced today that state-employed lifeguards who protect pools, lakes and beaches from Lake Erie to Montauk are affiliating with the 600,000-member union. The NYSUT Board of Directors will formally vote to accept the new local union — known as the New York State Lifeguard Corps — on Saturday, ending a nearly six-year legal odyssey that started when lifeguards began seeking better pay, improved training and safety equipment, and a voice in their working conditions.
New York State has the highest local taxes in the nation, prompting Governor Paterson to propose a cap on how much property taxes can be increased for education funding. But how would a tax cap affect public education?
Studies show that tax limitations decrease revenue for public services and are associated with lower student achievement and higher class sizes, according to a briefing paper by the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Research and Information Services.
The briefing paper reviews more than a dozen studies and concludes that state funding does not replace local funding limited by tax caps; in fact, local funding is often used to make up for state funding cuts during economic downturns. Furthermore, tax caps affect poor families and their communities the most, widening inequality. Studies linked tax limitations with lower student achievement, both when comparing districts affected by tax caps to similar districts not affected and when looking at achievement before and after a tax limitation took effect.
Also, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Massachusetts' Proposition 2 1/2 made local budgets more dependent on state aid, which fluctuates along with the health of the economy. Prop. 2 1/2 took effect during the "Massachusetts Miracle," a period of rising state revenues due to economic growth; CBPP warns against enacting a similar law during a slow economy, when state funding is unlikely to make up for local shortfalls.