In-Service And Retired CSA Members Storm Albany For Lobby Day
In-service and retired members visited Albany on Feb. 4-5 for CSA’s annual Joint Advocacy Day. More than 50 CSA participants met with over 125 legislators on a host of issues critical to our union and New York City students. Each year, participating members get the chance to tell their elected representatives about their challenges and needs as school leaders.
“It allows legislators to put a face to the initiative that you’re advocating for,” said Rushell White, principal of Virgil I. Grissom Middle School in Queens, who joined for the second year. “They’re not just reading on a sheet of paper about why it’s important for them to support more funding for schools, but instead they can hear from people who are in the trenches, who are doing the work.”
This year’s visit was particularly noteworthy given the results of the 2018 election. Due to the transition of the majority parties in the Senate and the number of newly elected legislators in both houses, some offices still weren’t fully set up and many were working with new staff members. In addition, schedules were especially hectic, since the legislative budget cycle runs from January 15 through April 1, the deadline for budget adoption. Though many meetings were held in legislators’ offices, when a Senator or Assembly Member was in a legislative session, they still made themselves available for “off-the-floor” appointments.
“There’s an incredible response this year to CSA’s issues since for the first time, in a lifetime, the state assembly and the state senate are controlled by Democrats,” said Richard Oppenheimer, the former CSA Retiree Chapter political liaison, who has been coming up to Albany for 30 years. “We’re finding that a lot of our issues are being taken care of at the front end of session, something I’ve never witnessed in my life. The timing couldn’t be better.”
As in years past, the largest priority was to advocate for increased funding for school and foundation aid. The executive budget proposes to increase school aid by $747 million, despite the fact that the Board of Regents recommended a $2.1 billion increase. Under the governor’s proposed budget, Foundation Aid would increase by only $338 million, when New York is currently $4.0 billion behind in the full phase-in of Foundation Aid increases. CSA members advocated that any increase in Foundation Aid for NYC schools should be put toward increasing Fair Student Funding percentages for schools that are not yet fully funded according to the city’s formula.
Also high on the priority list was CSA requests for additional Executive Leadership Institute funding. Last year, the state legislature delivered a $475,000 grant in support of ELI. This year CSA is requesting $575,000 to expand professional development services. The additional funding would allow ELI to beef up training required under the Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), training to create LGTBQ-friendly school environments, and workshops on social emotional learning. CSA also supported increased funding for Community Schools, legislation to enhance transparency in prescription drug pricing, and legislation to provide cost of living adjustments to allow retired members to maintain their standard of living.
CSA also asked elected officials to back a new initiative aimed at families of veterans and active military service members who are entitled to benefits, many of which they may not be aware. More work needs to be done to properly identify these students and their families, and CSA argues that every NYC public school should have a designated liaison trained on these benefits and any other resources available to military families.
“This was an incredibly eye-opening experience” said Education Administrator Jacek Polubiec, who was lobbying for the first time. “I was very happy to see that they were so receptive. Many were actually very knowledgeable, and if they weren’t, they were asking questions. A few even offered suggestions about how to strengthen our arguments in the future.”
Assistant Principal Naomi Levine, another first-time participant, agreed: “It was powerful, it was productive, it was informative. And such an incredible learning opportunity to work collaboratively with our retirees.”