Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thoughts about Governor Cuomo’s Budget Proposal

This past week, Governor Cuomo unveiled his state spending plan for 2013-14, which includes a 3% increase in school operating aid. He hailed his successes over the past two years to bring to $1.3B a budget gap that had been projected to be $17.4B for this year; to pass a state spending and local tax levy cap to reign in property taxes; and to improve educational accountability via adoption by 99% of NY’s school districts of APPR, the teacher/principal evaluation plan. Restoration of dollars to offset the GEA (gap elimination adjustment) and cuts to high tax aid are intended to distribute dollars to high-need areas.

With sensitivity for uncontrollable fluctuations in fixed costs, i.e. health and pension, the Governor proposes a $203M one-time stabilization allocation which will be negotiated with the Legislature. Additionally, in response to the recommendations of the NY Education Reform Commission, he rolled out $75M worth of competitive grant programmatic initiatives for: full day prekindergarten, extended day/week/year learning time, community schools, high performance rewards, and early college high school programs.

There are key provisions that are laudable, and the overall 4.4% increase (averaging $300/student) in educational funding is welcomed. However, as we weigh the pros and cons of varying provisions,

there is concern for districts regarding funding shifts and for those that will be dependent on competitive grants and/or provided support for one year only.

Thank you for your advocacy!

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Keeping Our Children Safe

Dear NYS PTA Members and Friends,

PTA’s mission is to be a relevant voice, a resource for families and communities and a strong advocate for conditions that ensure the well-being of every child.  A significant purpose within that mission is to promote education and secure adequate laws for the care and protection of children and youth. In light of national events involving mass shootings, most recently the horrific events and loss of lives at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut we are compelled to speak out on behalf of those who are the intended beneficiaries our   mission.

Historically, NYS PTA and National PTA have held strong positions on firearms: use, procurement and ownership, safety, storage, and discharge within school districts. We have also fought for mental health support and services that are equal to those of other medical conditions and for school and community-based mental health education and services. We’ve advocated for school safety policies that address violence by reducing/eliminating incidents of bullying and harassment and provide plans that ensure the safety of students and staff within our school buildings. Finally, we have worked to promote policies and practices that support non-violent conflict resolution and digital or electronic exposure to violence.
We respect our Constitutional protections.  However, while we recognize these as core to our democratic principles, we must also acknowledge the world is extraordinarily different than when these protections were crafted. The Constitution is a living document -- with change, comes the challenge to adhere to our core principles yet provide the fundamental freedom and protections that the public, especially our children, has the right to expect. To this end, it is time to put our PTA positions to work and take a stand for the well-being of every child, for every adult – each has the right to feel safe whether in a movie theater, a place of worship or in their small, hometown grade school. 

The Newtown tragedy seems rooted in a complex mix of circumstances, much of which we will never fully understand. PTA positions can form a basis for action to address these. Still, we cannot minimize the scope of the tragedy due to the access and use of firearms.  As a constituent association of National PTA, we believe gun violence must decrease and restricting access to firearms is a necessary step to make our schools and communities safer. We must ask our state and federal legislators to take action to enact laws to restrict access to firearms and improve school safety. 

PTA supports recommendations in policies and legislation that: 
  • Reenact and expand bans on the sale and possession of military-style assault weapons
  • Ban non-sporting ammunition and large capacity magazines 
  • Mandate licensing for purchase and periodic license renewal for ownership of a firearms 
  • Require a mandatory three-day waiting period and background check to purchase a firearm, regardless of retail venue 
  • Prohibit firearm purchase and possession by those convicted of spousal abuse and child abuse
  • Place mandatory restrictions on Internet firearms sales, including restrictions on materials used to make/modify guns
  • Mandate background checks for any firearm retailer and employees 
  • Increase penalties for the transfer of firearms, including handguns and assault weapons, to juveniles for use in a crime
In the words of, Colin Goddard the Assistant Director of Federal Legislation at the Brady Campaign and a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre:      

‘We are better than this. We are better than a nation with mass shootings in movie theaters and schools and on our streets, ... Now it’s time our elected officials show us they know it too because we want our streets to be safe, we want our classrooms to be safe, we want a safer nation for all of us, we deserve better than this, we are better than this.’

Add your voice to Colin’s. Let’s not only speak, let’s act on behalf every child, every family. Please watch for and share PTA’s “calls to action” to STOP VIOLENCE in our schools and communities. In doing so, we will work together to keep all citizens out of harm’s way.

Thank you for your advocacy!

Lana Ajemian, President
Reflect the past, Transform today, Inspire tomorrow!