CLS advocacy stronger than ever

UFT Vice President of Elementary Education Karen Alford watches students at work at PS 59 in Brooklyn, a community learning school.

By UFT Vice President Karen Alford

Each year, as the spring unfolds, our educators and our partners direct much of their energy towards helping our students and families successfully complete the term and be well positioned for next year.

Our thoughts turn to how we can build on the momentum of the current school year and see it through to the end in a powerful way. We’re excited and have innovative ideas. New methods and strategies for academic interventions and out-of-time school begin to formulate. We’re in full gear and ready to act.

Implementing our ideas, however, takes resources. Whether it’s for material costs, staff per diems or buying the latest technology — schools need funds to give shape to their wonderful ideas.

Federal funding for public education and support programs is taking a back seat to voucher initiatives and tax cuts that favor private schools.

The first budget proposal emanating from the White House this past March included more than $1.2 billion in cuts from the federal government’s community schools initiative, called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This funding provides enrichment, tutoring and other academic services to students before and after school.

So, as public schools and safety net programs that rely on federal support face dramatic funding cuts, the Community Learning Schools Initiative has made strong appeals at both the state and municipal levels.

CLS is, once again, a UFT budget priority in lobbying the governor and state Legislature, and the mayor and the New York City Council. For all the reasons stated above, we are heartened by and thankful for the union’s support and its belief in what we’re doing. We’re making a powerful difference in the lives of children and families. Lawmakers need to understand how their support will help sustain our progress, as well as expand our reach.

On March 27, members of our CLS team joined UFT lobbyists and activists in Albany, where we told our story to state lawmakers and their staff. We provided the takeaway from a study released in 2016 comparing the percentage of students meeting or exceeding English Language Arts (ELA) and math proficiency standards from the 2012-13 to the 2015-16 school years. We revealed that our CLS students outperformed students at schools in the rest of the city and state in terms of growth in ELA and math scores.

On the city front, on March 20, the union testified before the City Council, whose members have championed CLS from its inception. Pressing our case for additional funding, councilmembers heard examples about how we’re removing obstacles to learning and helping children achieve and thrive. This is not the end.

On May 18, hand-in-hand with UFT President Michael Mulgrew and our colleagues from other UFT initiatives  — the Positive Learning Collaborative, the BRAVE anti-bullying program and Dial-a-Teacher — we aim to persuade the City Council leadership and members to fund our initiatives, which are working in our schools.

We’re making gains in our neighborhood public schools. We’re public school proud. Our message is strong. Our advocacy and optimism is even stronger.