It’s been a shade over four months since the new NYSUT officers took office. They were elected, largely due to the UFT Unity Caucus’ loyalty oath, after running a campaign in which they made big promises. They spoke of a “grassroots” slate of candidates, “member driven” unionism, and spoke of how our statewide union needed to change course (except Andy Pallotta’s position, of course) and set a new direction. After the beating teachers had taken the previous few years, who could argue with such statements? After defeating a slate of several incumbent officers, many of their supporters expected big changes. The first warning sign should have been the fact that within hours of their victory they shut down the website where they had listed their campaign promises and re-directed it to nysut.org. Fortunately someone was wise enough to snap a photograph of their campaign flyer. Let’s take a look…
After leading with a bullet about being “Against Common Core” Karen Magee made sure to speak up in support of the Common Core at the AFT Convention in July. Magee feared that without the Common Core all her members would just engage in a “free-for-all” where “Everyone does as they please” because that is certainly what we all must have been doing way back in 2012 before we had the Common Core. It was a curiously odd way to show that she was “against the Common Core” as her campaign literature assured us she was.
However the real hot topic of the campaign was Governor Cuomo. In fact Cuomo was so important of an issue that the officers formerly known as Revive NYSUT referenced him not once, but twice in their literature! First off they told us that they were “Against Cuomo.” Seems pretty straight forward to me. They then followed up by reminding us that, “We are not Pro-Cuomo. We have called him the Scott Walker of NY.” Again, a pretty clear statement. There was no guessing when it came to where they allegedly stood on the topic of our governor. So it would have been reasonable for the average rank and file member to assume that their VOTE COPE funds would be used “Against Cuomo” this fall. That’s why it is rather disconcerting to see that NYSUT chose not to endorse anyone running against Cuomo at their endorsement conference this week.
Let’s be clear, Cuomo’s Republican challenger is not a better choice. Given his love for charter schools (“We need more charter schools in New York, not fewer.”) and his desire to re-write the Triborough Amendment, Astorino would have been a disastrous choice to endorse. However we are fortunate enough to have other choices this year which would have made opposing Cuomo a no brainer and an easy campaign promise to keep.
On September 9th, Cuomo will be opposed in the Democratic primary by Zephyr Teachout. Her running mate for lieutenant governor is Tim Wu. There’s a lot to like about Teachout’s stance on public education. Some of the ideas Teachout is running on:
a. Full and Equal Funding for Public Education
New York spends $8,700 less per pupil in poor districts than we do in rich ones. That makes New York the sixth most unequal state in all America when it comes to school funding. This also means that New York is in violation of its own Constitution, which requires the government to provide a “sound, basic education” to every student, no matter his zip-code. I believe this constitutional obligation should be our floor, not our ceiling. New Yorkers have a right to demand the best public schools in the nation, with small class sizes, arts, and physical education for every child.
I would work to make funding more fair and equitable. Despite a promise to the contrary, Governor Cuomo has actually widened the funding gap between poor and wealthy districts.
b. End High-Stakes Testing
Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we’ve seen a culture of test-and-punish overthrow actual teaching and real learning. New York State entirely botched the implementation of Common Core, which has ushered in an unrelenting regimen of tests. Governor Cuomo’s system of basing teacher evaluations on student tests has corroded actual learning.
We should slam the brakes on the barrage of high-stakes testing. This means halting both the new Common Core tests and tests that are part of the teacher evaluation system. We need to undertake a thorough reevaluation of all high stakes tests, with full input from educators and parents.
c. Protect Against Privatization
Governor Cuomo has promoted a private takeover of public education policy, by opening state coffers up to charter schools, which serve only three percent of New York’s students. In New York City, meanwhile, he has mandated that city taxpayers pay rent for privately run charter schools to the tune of $11,000 per pupil, thus fueling their massive expansion at the expense of public schools.
We should protect our public schools from privatization schemes, including the diversion of state funds to private schools through vouchers or back-door tax credits. We should repeal provisions enacted in 2014 that hijack control of decision-making about charter school co-locations out of the hands of local governments and that mandate that New York City pay for charter school rent.
d. Empower Local Communities
I would eliminate the undemocratic provisions of the cap on local school budgets— falsely sold as a tax cap even though it caps nobody’s taxes. Specifically we should hand back to local voters the right to control their own school budgets, by eliminating the requirement of a 60 percent supermajority. We should return to the principle of one person, one vote in school budget elections.
e. Suspend the Suspension Pipeline
We must end the ‘school to prison pipeline’ where excessive use of school suspensions for minor infractions deprive students of education, leaving them behind. Suspensions actually increase behavior problems and decrease school safety. In many urban communities there is a school suspension crisis—with huge racial inequalities in suspension rates. Greater suspension rates lead to higher expulsion rates and to increases in school-based arrests. This cycle starts with high suspension rates for young students, even as young as pre-k and kindergarten. We need solutions, not suspensions. We need to transform the culture in school buildings to support teachers and students, foster collaboration, teach problem-solving, engender real responsibility and accountability and keep students in school. This approach, called “restorative justice,” has proven highly effective. Due to a local community organizing effort in Buffalo, the implementation of these reforms have already led to a 30 percent reduction in suspensions. Students cannot learn if they are not in school.
Reading Teachout’s education platform makes one wonder what exactly it was that NYSUT leaders disagreed with? Maybe it’s because she opposes the Common Core (that Magee feels we desperately need, even though she promised she was against it)? There was certainly more than one local president at the endorsement conference who asked for an endorsement of Teachout in the primary. Our own Beth Dimino was one of them. That brings me to another option for NYSUT. Dimino suggested that if Teachout were to lose to Cuomo in the primary, NYSUT should support the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones for governor and lieutenant governor. We covered their education platform back in May. So NYSUT had two separate options to oppose Cuomo and they chose none. Despite pleas from their membership and presidents from locals around the state, Magee, Pallotta, and the rest of NYSUT’s board of directors decided in their private meeting yesterday that they would not oppose Cuomo. In the process they broke another major promise from their campaign.
I am not going to pretend to be surprised by this development. Any regular reader of this blog knows that we predicted things like this long ago, at the very start of the campaign. Still, it’s no less infuriating. A friend of mine who belongs to the UFT and has been shut out from having a voice in his local has told me, “I love my union but my union doesn’t love me.” Well that’s how I feel about NYSUT. I love my statewide union, but their actions clearly show that they have little regard for rank and file members like myself. I am sure it’ll personally benefit Karen Magee, Andy Pallotta, and other members of the board of directors somewhere down the road to go easy on Cuomo this fall. But it certainly doesn’t help the 600,000 of us who pay NYSUT dues and enable the hefty compensation packages of the NYSUT officers.
The silver lining in all of this is that others are becoming wise to how the NYSUT officers operate. Supporters of theirs are already starting to realize that the slate formerly known as Revive NYSUT is not who they claimed to be. This will only continue as Magee, Pallotta, and company continue to toe the company line that Mike Mulgrew dictates. All the while an opposition will have ample time to develop and grow to a size that can rival the New York State Unity Caucus by the next NYSUT elections in 2017. Social justice unionism is spreading across the country, starting in Chicago and spreading to places like Los Angeles. By the next NYSUT elections there is a very real possibility that the Stronger Together Caucus, representing social justice unionism, will topple the Goliath known as Unity Caucus and usher in real change to NYSUT leadership. At that time I truly believe we will look back on the first few months of Magee’s presidency as the time period that started her undoing.
If you want to donate to the Teachout/Wu campaign click here.
If you want to donate to the Hawkins/Jones campaign click here.
If you want to vote for Teachout over Cuomo in the Democratic primary on September 9th you must be a registered Democrat. If you are not you can change your party affiliation, but your registration must be postmarked by tomorrow, August 15th! Click here to access a registration form.
James Eterno of the ICEUFT Blog covers the NYSUT story here.
Reality Based Educator over at Perdido Street School talks about NYSUT’s decision to endorse an indicted Senate Republican here.