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500 Women Scientists
We are writing to you as the 500 Women Scientists, a group of over 20,000 women scientists from 100 chapters across the United States, dedicated to building an inclusive scientific community and training future leaders in science. We aim to use the language of science to bridge divides and enhance global diplomacy. Supporting science is essential, not only for scientific advancements, but also the American economy, and the culture and values of New York State. Approximately 500,000 New Yorkers work in STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Mathematics) professions, and this number has been steadily increasing since 2010.
As your constituents from the 500 Women Scientists Ithaca Chapter, we would like you to answer science policy questions that are important to our New York community. Will will compile your and your opposition’s answers to our questions into a voter guide for our members, and share your responses in op-eds in local papers. This will provide your potential constituents with side-by-side responses from each candidate.
Scientific Integrity: Some politicians are openly disputing well-established scientific facts and ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence, excluding it from policy decision-making processes. Will you take actions to support science? To what extent do you plan to include science in policy decisions?
The point of policy is to provide real solutions to problems. Solutions have to address realities and scientific evidence is the best way to comprehend realities. I will include scientists in my administration’s policy formulating teams.
I will discuss how I will take this approach with respect to climate change and lead poisoning under question 4 below. Here I will use the example of education policy, where state policy has pushed a high-stakes testing policy that has done nothing to close the achievement gap. It is being used to evaluate and rank teachers and schools despite the peer-reviewed published research indicating teacher quality contributes only between 1% and 14% to student test scores. This research, which has been confirmed repeatedly for 50 years, finds that the strongest factor by far in predicting student scores is family income. This finding indicates educational equity requires broader social reform to reduce poverty. Another finding is that the most powerful reductions in the achievement gap have occurred in schools that are integrated by family income such that poor students compose no more than 40% of the student body. New York’s metro regions have the most segregated schools in the nation by class and by race, which largely corresponds to class. Instead of pushing high-stakes testing – and the corresponding privatization of “failed” high-poverty schools into charter schools – a science-based education policy would promote school desegregation and equitable funding of all schools.
Good education should not be rationed. It is appalling that in New York City wealthy parents are putting 3 and 4 year olds into test prep programs so they can test into the high track in kindergarten. Using standardized tests to place 5 year olds into different tracks as they just start their education is reproducing class and race hierarchies and segregation inter-generationally. Students in the lowest tracks end up in the 40% of New York City high schools that have no physics classes and very few science classes of any kind. With 10% of the children going to school homeless in cities like Syracuse and New York City, tracking should not be a barrier to a student advancing into high-level academic courses when their living situation stabilizes. Tracking to varying degrees occurs in most school districts in New York State. It should be eliminated. Every school should offer every student a full range of academic and vocational courses without tracking.
Education. STEM skills are increasingly valuable given the need for a technically competent workforce. Becoming a scientist takes many years of schooling, yet education is increasingly expensive. Students are being saddled with debt that constrains their life choices. How will you address student debt and ensure that all students have equal opportunity to pursue their career choices?
I support true tuition-free higher education at New York’s public colleges. Assemblymember James Skoufis’ Tuition-Free NY bill in 2014 was priced at $1.5 to $2 billion annually. That would be an excellent investment in developing STEM skills and other higher education outcomes so every student can take their education as far as their interests and efforts can take them. Gov. Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship program was billed as tuition-free public college, but only 3% of SUNY students and 2% of CUNY students have qualified. It requires full-time study, which is impossible for many working-class students who have to work while going to school to support themselves and often their families. It’s a last-dollar tuition program, which means students have to spend all their Pell and other grants before Excelsior kicks in, leaving nothing for living expenses.
I also favor a federal program of student debt relief. Most of the $1.5 trillion in student debt owed by 45 million people is held by the federal government. $1 trillion is owned by the Department of Education, over $300 billion in private debt that is guaranteed by the federal government, and the remainder is private debt without government backing. I support the Federal Reserve buying up that federally owned or guaranteed debt and reducing it on a progressive sliding scale. Students would make reduced payments scaled to their current income for 20 years, with the remainder then cancelled. It would be a debit on the government’s balance sheet, but it would be huge stimulative credit on the other side of the social balance sheet for the 45 million students and former students who could then proceed with their lives without burdensome debt.
Harassment: The recent National Academies report suggests that harassment of women in academic science is second only to the rates experienced by women in the US military. As a potential solution to this problem, the Federal Funding Accountability for Sexual Harassers Act was introduced in 2016, but never passed. Would you support this legislation and similar local legislation? How do you plan to address problems of sexual harassment, in science and other fields?
I do support the Federal Funding Accountability for Sexual Harassers Act and would introduce similar state legislation, especially because the prospects of that federal bill are not good in the next couple of years.
I also support strengthen sexual harassment policy for state employees, which includes the SUNY system. The sexual harassment law enacted in March 2018 needs strengthening. It bans nondisclosure agreements except when the condition of confidentiality is the explicit preference of the victim. It prohibits mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment complaints. It requires government employees found responsible for committing harassment to refund any taxpayer-financed payouts. But it failed to clearly define sexual harassment, which means the policies could be narrowly interpreted and ineffective. The public still cannot access records about harassment claims in the state legislature because it has exempted itself from the state’s own open records law. The law also needs a more expansive definition of gender-based discrimination.
Environmental Stewardship: New York faces numerous health, safety, and economic challenges due to environmental impacts to our land, air, and water. NYS residents are grappling with alternative energy sources, lead contamination in drinking water, and problems, like flooding, caused by climate change. What policies and actions will you take if you enter office to help address environmental concerns and safeguard our state? What climate and energy policies do you support?
I would make lead abatement the highest priority upon entering office. 40% of the children in Syracuse and Buffalo, and lower yet alarming percentages in other cities and towns, have blood levels above the 5 micrograms per deciliter federal standard of safety. Late in the Obama administration, EPA was proposing to lower that standard to 3.5 micrograms. But that proposal died under the Trump administration. The science indicates there is no safe level for young developing children. Elevated blood lead levels result in permanent neurological damage that adversely affects motor skills, cognitive capacities, emotions, and behaviors. This science indicates New York should fund a crash program to remediate the sources of lead poisoning in lead paint, water, and soil and require all rental units to receive lead-safe certification before renting out.
Passing the New York Off Fossil Fuels (NY OFF) bill would also be a top priority. I oppose the Climate and Community Protection Act, which the Assembly has passed three times, on scientific grounds. CCPA would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero until 2050. Climate science indicates that is too late to avoid runaway global warming and catastrophic climate change. CCPA says nothing about stopping new fracked-gas and other fossil fuel infrastructure. Its goal is to make New York’s contribution to climate protection by stabilizing greenhouse gases at 450 carbon dioxide equivalent parts per million. That objective was agreed to by the world’s nations based in the International Panel on Climate Change’s fourth report in 2007. But it is out of date. Subsequent peer-reviewed studies, notably those by James Hansen and colleagues, indicate that the goal must be 350 ppm to avert runaway warming. Therefore, I support NY OFF, which will halt new fossil fuel infrastructure and build a 100% clean energy system and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2030. That is what industrial states like New York must do to have any chance of reaching the 350 goal, which, since the level reached 412 ppm in April and May this year, must also involve drawing carbon out of the atmosphere by restoring agricultural soils and reforestation. The NY OFF bill addresses the agricultural, building, and transportation sectors as well as the electric power sector.
Immigration: A large proportion of scientists in the U.S. are immigrants. They have made significant contributions to U.S. excellence in research and development. Our farm workforce also relies heavily on a foreign-born population. What is your view on the current immigration policies and their potential impact on science, our food system, and immigrant status? What steps, if any, will you take to uphold or change current policies?
I would promote policies to make New York a Sanctuary State.
I support the Liberty Act, which would prohibit state agencies from collecting or sharing an individual’s immigration information with federal agencies.
I want to prohibit the use of public funds in New York State to enforce federal immigration laws.
I would maintain Maintain Executive Order 179 (September 15, 2017) that prohibits:
- state agencies and officers from inquiring about or disclosing an individual's immigration status unless required by law or necessary to determine eligibility for a benefit or service.
- law enforcement officers from inquiring about immigration status unless investigating illegal criminal activity, including, but not limited to, when an individual approaches a law enforcement officer seeking assistance, is the victim of a crime, or is witness to a crime.
I would maintain the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau guidance for local law enforcement to limit their participation in federal immigration enforcement activities, including:
- refusing to enforce non-judicial civil immigration warrants issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP),
- protecting New Yorkers' Fourth Amendment rights by denying federal requests to hold uncharged individuals in custody more than 48 hours,
- limiting access of ICE and CBP agents to individuals currently in custody,
- limiting information gathering and reporting that will be used exclusively for federal immigration enforcement.
I support the New York DREAM Act to enable 4,500 undocumented students who graduate from high school each year to pursue a college education. 146,000 undocumented youth now in New York will benefit from this law. It would allow undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements to access state financial aid and scholarships for higher education. It establishes a DREAM Fund Commission to raise private funds for a college scholarship program for children of immigrants.
I support Drivers Licenses for Undocumented Immigrants, which will enhance public safety as well as equal justice under law.
I want to expand the Liberty Defense Project by increasing funding from $10 million to $20 million to provide immigrants with legal services and process.
I want a state law to prohibit county sheriff’s from holding undocumented people in county jails at the request of ICE without a court order.
I also want a state law to prohibit county jails from serving as detention centers for ICE.