As Cuomo’s Budget Nears, New Group Joins NY School Aid Fight

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A new, well-financed partnership plying both fundamentals of democracy and modern high-stakes lobbying plans to bring Albany’s fight over public school aid into New Yorkers’ homes.

The Alliance for Quality Education, a school advocacy group that helped unseat some incumbent senators in November, is joining with the powerful New York State United Teachers union to protect school funding.

The catalyst will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Feb. 1 budget proposal. But the target of the new partnership will be legislators who support Cuomo as he addresses a deficit of more than $10 billion.

“This is a different approach to politics,” said Billy Easton of AQE. “This is based on the idea that all politics is local and the best way we can influence the outcome here in Albany is what we do on the ground in people’s districts, and how successful we are in engaging communities in what’s happening,” Easton told The Associated Press.

NYSUT is providing AQE with $425,000 for use over four months to pay for staff in several counties statewide, many represented by potentially vulnerable senators. The funding will pay for rallies, local news events, phone banks to build pressure on Albany, mailings and door-to-door campaigns. It aims to mobilize clergy, parents, teachers and community leaders around their schools.

Seven more full-time organizers will operate from new offices, most of which correspond with Senate districts of five freshmen Republicans: Sens. Patty Ritchie, Lee Zeldin, Jack Martins, Greg Ball and Mark Grisanti. The slim GOP majority has been supportive of Cuomo’s broad fiscal plans and any loss of Republican votes could defeat Cuomo’s cuts.

“They are going to come under a lot of heat to just take cuts,” Easton said of the legislators.

The group and its allies are also fighting his plan to cap the growth of local school taxes at 2 percent a year, and his plan to allow a surcharge on the incomes of New Yorkers making over $200,000 a year to end as planned this year. That could provide up to $4 billion in more revenue.

The new group will also rally support around senators and Assembly members who oppose Cuomo’s fiscal plan.

But what Easton calls “bottom-up pressure” isn’t aimed at Cuomo. The Democrat is riding high popularity in the polls and has galvanized public support for taming Albany’s overspending and overtaxing.

“Not only do we spend too much, but we get too little in return,” Cuomo said in his well received State of the State speech on Jan. 5. “We spend more money on education than any state in the nation and we are number 34 in terms of results.”

Public school advocates point to other surveys that give New York education far better grades, but for now Cuomo has the public’s attention.

If history is repeated, that could change after Feb. 1.

The new effort will ratchet up what is expected to be a more intense onslaught of public and private lobbying than usual after Cuomo’s budget proposal.

Public worker unions are expected to soon air TV ads opposing cuts, emphasizing that deep cuts will mean layoffs for New Yorkers and reduced services for the elderly, the infirm and the poor, many of them children.

Those efforts have defeated similar fiscal plans of Govs. David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer and George Pataki.

But this year, business groups including the new coalition called the Committee to Save New York are airing statewide ads and a grass roots campaign is planned by the state Conservative Party, all to support Cuomo’s fiscal plan.

NYSUT, which has staged many of the most effective ads against education cuts, is waiting for the budget proposal to see how it proceeds, said union spokesman Carl Korn.

Korn notes that state aid to schools in the last two years dropped by more than 8 percent, or by more than $1 billion a year. Even last year’s federal stimulus funding that in part was to keep schools whole left schools with a 2.5-percent cut.

Korn also notes that declining state aid and further action by school districts have cut about 10,000 teaching jobs in 700 school districts in recent years, mostly by eliminating unfilled positions. But further cuts will require far more layoffs of active teachers, increasing class sizes, Korn said.

“Our message is going to be that we share everyone’s vision of turning around the state’s economy and we believe the best way to do that is to invest in education,” Korn said. “Our job is to work with the Legislature to be sure the final document protects education and other vital services.”

Annual state school aid is more than $20 billion a year, which Cuomo notes translates into the highest per-student spending in the nation. The state Division of Budget says more than 70 percent of state school aid goes to salaries and benefits.

But the new effort wants to change the terms of the debate from multibillion state deficits and macro economics.

“What do we want to cut in terms of a student’s opportunity?” Easton said. “How much are we willing to reduce the future income of New York’s kids?”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

  • spree

    Why not make teachers take sabbaticals every 5 years to refresh their educational skill set? How about measuring student performance based on their individual grade improvement from year to year. If students are being shuffled to new schools from failing enterprises are say 2-3 grade levels behind their peers how exactly are teachers to bring them up to speed and challenge students who are expected to be or in a mixed class that includes gifted students and those with behavioral problems? I have volunteered at schools from Canarsie to East Harlem and I find it hard to stomach all of the flack teachers are getting. They are being thrown into situations by bureaucrats who make reactionary decisions, but do not put effort into solving the problems faced by teachers. I guess, it just bothers me when people are trashing teachers in this city who face student disinterest, larger class size, lack of funding, mixed student aptitude and work under extraordinary pressure.

  • callmecynical

    You call this reporting? Can someone please look further into AQE’s funding before writting the headline that the Teachers UInion and AQE are “joining forces.” AQE is a wholey owned subsidiary of NYSUT, there is no difference between them other than NYSUT has AQE do some of it’s dirty work for them. This might be the poorest reporting I have ever read. Did you just let Billy write it for you?

  • Christine

    The answer is simply 90% of the budget shortfall should come out of union givebacks by all municipal unions bar none!
    Management and non-management!
    Contracts should only be determined by availability of funds not projections.
    Tenure too must be abolished as well as seniority.
    In education the good and bad must be determined not seniority. In short like private enterprise.!

  • Jerry

    It’s about time teacher unions stopped denying the fact they earn too too much with to little in education gains. It’s obvious to all they are concerned with their own quality of life than the students welfare and expect to continually bilk the general public with unconscionable tax burdens instead of “waking up and smelling the coffee”.
    The unions allowance of thousands of their own to be let go is certainly a selfish mode of conduct both to their own and the students who also will suffer. Why…because they intend to protect their outrageous salaries and perks as well as their thirteen weeks vacation over 20 holidays an days off, snow days whether it snows or not and, numerous shortened work days.They too get double pay for summers??

    What other employer would guarantee all this………..not to mention in a failing enterprise??

  • Working for a living

    This country is not in economic distress because of unions or pensions and certainly not teachers. Put the blame where it belongs – on Wall Street and financial institutions. Everyone is paying for their greed and lies.

    • Nick

      I can’t figure out who steals more. The Wall Street fat cats or the Union goldbrickers.

      But it is a hoot to see a lazy F trying to call himself “working”. We’re working too. How come we don’t give ourselves the fat pension and medical you’re stealing from us in the form of taxes?

  • DanTe

    I love this. Cuomo’s going to cut education and medical. The two entitlement crazy groups that votes for him – the young who never paid taxes and wants “ideals” and the old who wants free free free. HA!

    This is why I voted for Cuomo with the T ARDed “nathan”, “grant” and “The Good Samaratin”. These T ARDs of the World deserves him. HA!

  • Old Man

    One last piece of advice…..”QUIT SLURPIN’ AT THE PUBLIC TROUGH!’

  • Old Man

    Youcan say what you want to but the UNIONS are one of the MAIN reason this country is in such financial straits. You hear “Cut all you want to but DON’T CUT MINE!” REGARDLESS of exactly WHO spent what and where…this country is BROKE!!! EVERY STATE has a budget deficit over ENTITLEMENTS!! EVERYONE needs to ‘STAND UP’ and take the bitter pill of “fiscal responsibility!” & those UNION MEMBERS (ESPECIALLY the TEACHERS UNION) are NO BETTER than the average working man or woman on the street! Our paychecks PAY THE TAXES that PAY YOUR SALARY! 70% for Teachers salaries means ONLY 30% (AND less) get to the kids! Give’em ALL a PAY CUT!. Let’em WORK FOR A LIVING for a change!

  • chris

    Painful cuts have o e mde, but to undereducate students, especially low income ones, bodes really badly for our society. However unions in the blue collar jobs are often excessively strident and demanding, and they are some who need to make compromises. We need public discussions after Cuomo spells it out in his plan. Somehow the cuts I guess HAVE to be made, and we must decide what we can forego. Certainly not less snowplowing and certain necessary public services!.

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