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2014 NYSUT Candidate Survey

Candidate Name: Howie Hawkins

Office Seeking: Governor

District: New York State

Party Affiliation: Green

Property Tax Caps

New York’s tax cap law is the most onerous in the nation, requiring school districts to reach a 60 percent “supermajority” should it choose to invest in education beyond the limits of the tax cap. Its impact continues to pose great impediments to school districts in meeting their obligations to successfully educate every child.

This year's allowable tax cap for schools is 1.46 percent (local governments have a 1.66 percent tax cap). This is nowhere near the 3.7 percent forecast of cost increases for current programs estimated by the Educational Conference Board in their January 2014 report. This devastatingly low percentage will have serious negative effects on our students and their schools. 

There are no exemptions from the tax cap levy for uncontrollable cost increases – items such as enrollment shifts, natural disasters, fuel, or health care rate increases. 

This year, New York passed a “tax freeze,” creating a regressive system of tax subsidy, whereby the state’s wealthiest homeowners receive the largest credit back if their school districts and local governments remain within the tax cap. This “tax freeze” further pits homeowners against their schools and contributes to the alarming impact of the tax cap.

Tax caps have also been shown to disproportionately affect lower-income communities, as they are less likely to be able to achieve the supermajorities necessary to override the property tax cap. This will exacerbate disparities across the state in educational performance leaving low wealth schools even worse off relative to their high-wealth counterparts.

If elected, would you support reforms to the tax cap law that include the elimination of the requirement of a “supermajority vote” of 60 percent for passage of school budgets under New York’s tax cap law and the provision for exemptions for uncontrollable cost increases?

Yes

Comments:

I also support restoring the more progressive state tax structure of the 1970s in order to shift the burden of paying for public education away from regressive local property taxes and on to progressive state taxes. The 1970s tax structure today would cut taxes for 95% of New Yorkers and still raise $25-30 billion new additional revenues, or about 20% more revenues than currently (more progressive income tax: $8 billion; eliminating post-1970s corporate welfare: $7 billion; eliminating the post-1970s 100% rebate of the Stock Transfer Tax: $12-$16 billion). We could fully fund public schools and, with revenue sharing restored to the 1970s standard of 8% of state revenues (it is now less than 1%), we could fully fund public schools and reduce property taxes. That would reduce the pitting of homeowners against schools under our highest-in-the-nation property taxes.

Protection of Due Process Rights

Due process is a basic American right enjoyed by all citizens and includes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the right to fair hearing. Due process, also known as tenure, is not unique to the teaching profession. State and municipal workers, including police officers and firefighters as well as union members in the private sector, all have due process protections very similar to tenure. Many of these other professions earn due process protections in far less time than teachers do.

Tenure helps to both ensure stability in the classroom and protect academic freedom. It is born out of the basic realization that teachers can engage their students in a free exchange of ideas only if they are protected from arbitrary dismissal for doing so. Without the protections of tenure, a teacher could face dismissal for supporting the "wrong" political candidate or for legitimate lessons on controversial subjects in the news.

If elected, would you oppose any legislation that would weaken teacher due process rights? 

Yes 

Comments: 

I agree with this statement by my Lieutenant Governor running mate and former New York City public school teacher, Brian Jones: “If anything, teacher tenure laws need to be strengthened because the country is bleeding teachers — especially in large urban districts.” (Brain Jones, “Job Protections Do Not Hurt Students, June 12, 2014, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/06/11/does-tenure-protect-bad-teachers-or-good-schools/protections-of-teacher-tenure-do-not-hurt-students

Teacher Evaluations

New York schools have, under threat of loss of significant federal and state funding, complied with the new teacher evaluation law and adopted a new teacher evaluation system called APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review). NYSUT successfully mitigated the top-down, authoritarian aspects of the evaluation law by securing for all locals the right to negotiate, within a given framework, implementation of this well-intentioned, but highly flawed evaluation system.

Even with this local input, the implementation of the APPR system in some schools has resulted in the improper and inaccurate labeling of some new and veteran teachers previously judged as outstanding by peer and supervisor review. Due to the APPR process, these same teachers have now been mislabeled and downgraded. 

NYSUT will be continuing its legislative efforts to reform the APPR system now in place so that it is more acceptable to and reflective of the judgment of experienced classroom teachers and more reflective of quality historical research on the nature of quality teaching. 

If elected, would you support the legislation that will change the current summary evaluation categories and replace them with appropriate multiple measures of effective teaching practice?

Yes

Comments:

The two-year pause enacted this year in state-mandated Common Core-aligned high-stakes testing for teacher and student evaluations just delays the implementation of a fundamentally flawed policy. That policy is more about punishing disadvantaged communities than educating their children. High-stakes testing linked to Common Core is a set up designed to fail schools and privatize them into charters. High-stakes testing must be replaced with qualitative assessments designed by educators, not private contractors. Using test scores to hold students back, deny diplomas, fire teachers, and close schools does not improve education. It encourages teaching to the test and ignores the whole spectrum of social, motivational, and non-cognitive skills that are important educational goals. It is pushing low performing students out of school, discouraging teachers from working in low-testing schools in disadvantaged communities, and driving good educators out of the profession. In a word, it is worsening educational outcomes and the achievement gap. The test-and-punish regime must be replaced by a support-and-improve approach. If that means opting out of competitive Race to the Top grants, so be it. 

Eliminating the Achievement Gap 

NYSUT supports efforts to reduce and eliminate persistent gaps in academic achievement among children of different racial and ethnic groups and children of low socioeconomic means. Closing the gaps requires:

  • Reducing class sizes to give educators more opportunities to work with students with greater needs. Smaller class size provides lasting benefits, especially for minority and low-income students and students with exceptional needs;

  • Providing our state and school district resources and technical assistance to create effective professional development and accountability programs. The resources could be used for financial incentives to staff high-need, high-poverty schools with high-quality education professionals; and

  • Creating policies and providing resources to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.

If elected, would you support legislation that would close the achievement gaps by reducing class size, especially in the early grades; provide necessary state resources and technical assistance for professional development and accountability, and promote parental involvement? 

Yes 

Comments: 

We have known since James Coleman's 1966 report, “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” that the strongest predictor of student achievement is socio-economic status. Poverty concentrated by race and class segregation and reinforced by the underfunding of schools in disadvantaged communities are the root sources of the achievement gap. The UCLA Civil Rights Project recently documented that school segregation in New York State is the highest in the nation and growing. In addition to improving and equitably resourcing all schools, we must reduce race and class disparities in order to close the achievement gap. A successful education reform program to close the achievement gap must be a broader social reform program. That means reducing segregation. It means guaranteeing economic security: a living wage job for every adult willing and able to work, affordable housing, and comprehensive health care, as well as quality education. It means breaking down the division of labor in the private, public, and non-profit sectors alike between middle-class jobs requiring initiative, creativity, and collaborative problem-solving and working-class jobs requiring unquestioning obedience to work as directed. These differences in work experience and status are reproduced in differences in how middle-class and working-class children tend to be reared and prepared for learning in school.

School Aid Reform 

In 2007, as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, which held that the state was not providing adequate financing to provide all students with a sound basic education, the state Legislature enacted sweeping reforms to the school aid formula, which included the creation of Foundation Aid.  This promised funding was intended to be phased-in over four years, but due to the state’s abrogation of responsibility; the state is now over $4 billion behind in its obligation to our school children.  

Adding to the fiscal plight of schools, in 2010 the state imposed the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) upon schools, taking money away from students and schools to pay for state debt. Under the GEA, New York’s students are still owed an additional $1 billion. 

The combination of years of state aid cuts, the enactment of the GEA, a freeze of the Foundation aid formula, and the imposition of the property tax cap have all created a perfect storm of devastating conditions for school districts who are unable to even maintain their existing educational programs, let alone bring back programs that were cut since the Great Recession.

If elected, would you support adequately funding our students and their schools by fully funding Foundation Aid and eliminating the Gap Elimination Adjustment?

Yes 

Comments:

I would also improve the Foundation Aid formula by changing how it calculates the expected local contribution, which now favors wealthy downstate districts and leaves poorer upstate districts, and especially the Big Three upstate cities, with a much smaller aid amount than they would receive with a straightforward need-based formula.

Charter Schools 

NYSUT urges significant reforms to the charter school law in the areas of transparency, accountability, limitations on shared space, controls for oversaturation, ethics, and equity in the provision of services to high-need students.

Charter schools cannot be given preferential treatment over public schools. There is no evidence that corporately sponsored charter schools produce better results than traditional public schools and often siphon off scarce resources from the public schools who serve the vast majority of our students. 

If elected, would you support further reforms to stop the proliferation of charter schools, ensure accountability and transparency for charters, and stop the preferential treatment for charter schools?

Yes 

Comments:

I would reverse the law enacted in this year's state budget that forces New York city and state taxpayers to pay for free space for New York City charters co-located in public schools or pay rent for charters in private buildings. I would also reverse the law's increase in tuition funding for students in charter schools, which already receive more per student public funding than public schools when their free space and services are included. With the overcrowding, high real estate costs, and underfunded public school capital plan in New York City, this unprecedented giveaway to private corporate interests is stealing from the city's public schools. I would seek to laws to make the charter schools publicly accountable for the public dollars they receive, including audits by the city or state Comptroller, conflicts of interest rules, and reports on teacher turnover and student enrollment and discipline numbers. The original teacher-centered idea for charters from teaching profession people like Ray Budde, Albert Shanker, and Deborah Meier was to give teachers autonomy, free from central administration interference, for small scale experiments with new ideas and to share the successful ideas with the other public schools, particularly ideas to help students who were failing and dropping out. That was a good idea. But charter schools as practiced under corporate-driven “reform” have become a privately-managed, union-busting, profit-centered industry that seeks to privatize public education, that drains money from public schools, and that does no better than public schools in most cases and worse in too many cases where profiteering and sometimes fraud and theft have prevailed. I would focus public resources on public schools. 

Expansion of Mayoral Control to Upstate Cities

A student’s academic success is dependent upon parental involvement and community support working with teachers to provide the best education possible for each student. NYSUT believes that we should preserve communities’ voting rights and not undermine parental and community involvement in the education of our students.

There is no clear evidence that mayoral control leads to a student’s academic success or that any one person is more knowledgeable about the delivery of public education or more concerned about the education of our students. Voters want to support and maintain community control of their local public schools.

City residents should not be deprived of their democratic right to vote for their own school board members. No one individual should have all the autocratic power in an educational governance structure.

If elected, would you oppose mayoral control in our upstate city schools?

Yes

Comments:

In my hometown, I have spoken out against the call for mayoral control by the Mayor of Syracuse. Mayor control has been used in many cities, and state control in some states, to steamroll closing public schools, opening charter schools, imposing merit pay based on high-stakes testing, and other ill-advised policies over the resistance of parents and teachers. I oppose the further centralization of control over New York City charter school locations and rent payments in the hands of state that was enacted in Governor Cuomo's budget this year. I oppose renewing the New York City mayoral control law when it expires in 2015 and support an elected citywide school board and elected community school boards.

Private School Vouchers and Tuition Tax Credits

Voucher-like legislation has been introduced in New York that would divert hundreds of millions of dollars from the General Fund in the state budget at a time when public schools are coping with the loss of tens of thousands of educators’ jobs, loss of vital instructional programs, increased class sizes and the cumulative loss of promised school aid of more than $5 billion.

Tax credits are often offered under the guise of charitable giving for educational purposes which is misleading. Like directly funded vouchers, these tax loopholes do nothing to improve public schools while reducing the amount of money available for proven school improvement strategies. Unfortunately, families in less affluent communities are less likely to be able to afford to make donations to these schools so the benefits of these tax credits will primarily be in wealthy districts, thus increasing the disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods.

There is no evidence that vouchers or education tax credits improve student learning. Vouchers undermine reform efforts by shifting resources away from public schools. Private, religious and home schools are not required to adopt academic standards, ensure highly qualified teachers, administer assessments required of public schools, or comply with civil rights laws that bar discrimination in admissions and employment on the basis of religion.

New York state mandates a free public education system, which serves all children, and is accountable and transparent to citizens and taxpayers. The state constitution requires the state to maintain an adequately funded public school system and, at the same time, prohibits the use of public money to provide direct or indirect support to schools under the control of a religious denomination or where religious tenets are taught.

If elected, would you oppose any state voucher plan and tuition tax credits?

Yes

Comments: 

Governor Cuomo's support for the education tax credit is consistent with his push for more charter schools as well as parochial schools. Public money should be used for public schools.

Higher Education Funding

It is abundantly clear that obtaining a college degree is no longer just a laudable goal, it’s a necessity. It is a prerequisite for the vast majority of employers today. It is also clear, that the cost of higher education is becoming out of reach for far too many families. In fact, student debt has now surpassed credit card debt in this country.

SUNY and CUNY are literally the only options for hundreds of thousands of students to obtain a college education. Our public higher education systems in this state are the great equalizers of the twenty-first century; yet, we continually underfund these institutions. Over the last five years, our public higher education institutions have been cut by nearly $2 billion. This has put our public colleges and universities under intense pressure to make reductions in academic programs and services and to slash opportunities for students in need. Diminishing full-time faculty ranks and the overreliance on part-time faculty has also taken its toll; students have seen their class sizes continue to rise while at the same time, course offerings have declined, programs have been eliminated, and graduations have been delayed or denied. These situations are all too common within SUNY, CUNY, and our community colleges.

During this same period, our SUNY hospitals have also taken deep cuts and are now operating under very tenuous financial circumstances. Patient care and medical education have been seriously jeopardized and layoffs of thousands of quality health care professionals are expected. 

A greater state commitment to our public higher education institutions is needed now to enable these institutions to fully carry out their vital public missions of teaching, research, and health care, which is the key to a bright future for all New Yorkers. To that end, NYSUT and its higher education affiliates have put forth the “Public Higher Education Quality Initiative.” This initiative calls on the state to: 

  • Increase funding for SUNY and CUNY four-year campuses, SUNY’s hospitals and our community colleges to reverse the deep decline in funding over recent years. We must invest in the gateway to economic quality that public higher education provides;

  • Create an endowment to restore and rebuild SUNY and CUNY academic departments through the hiring of additional full-time faculty and professional staff. This will increase our state’s intellectual capital and help to ensure quality courses, programs, and mentoring that our students deserve; 

  • Support the NY Dream Act and invest strongly in student financial aid and opportunity programs, update and reform the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to advance a strong system of public higher education that ensures quality, access, and opportunity for all. 

We need to make public higher education a priority in this state. The failure to do so will only serve to weaken our ability to compete with other states and other nations in the global economy.

If elected, would you make enacting each component of the “Public Higher Education Quality Initiative” a priority and strongly advocate for public higher education?

Yes

Comments:

I also support the Tuition-Free NY bill (A.8585) to restore tuition free education at CUNY schools and extend it to SUNY schools and community colleges. I also support enactment of a publicly-funded single-payer health insurance system in New York State, which would more efficiently use of health care funds and more rationally fund and invest in hospitals and clinics, including SUNY hospitals. 

Transparency and Accountability of SUNY and CUNY Foundations

Campus foundations and other affiliated entities at SUNY and CUNY help carry out the public missions of their respective state agencies. These entities are involved in receiving and spending hundreds of millions of public dollars a year and get involved in the operation and management of health care facilities and student housing facilities, among many other public functions. In fact, public employee jobs are being outsourced through the use of private employees who work for these entities.

Under current law, campus foundations are not subject to FOIL (Freedom of Information Law)and often refuse requests for information from the public or press. Given the nature and scope of their activities and recent controversies, it is time to expand the definition of agency to cover these entities under FOIL.

If elected, would you support legislation to include these entities under FOIL?

Yes

Protection of Retirement Security

In both 2009 and 2012, new retirement tiers were added to reduce the value of public employees’ earnings in retirement. While those new pension tiers provide future public employees with reduced retirement benefits when compared to current members of the retirement systems, it still provides a guaranteed defined pension benefit rather than a volatile defined contribution system, similar to a 401(k).

Over the past few years, several states have made changes to their public pension systems that have stripped incoming members of defined pension benefit plans, placing them in less secure, more costly defined contribution plans.

If elected, would you support the continuation of a defined benefit pension plan for all public employees?

Yes

Comments:

I oppose “mandate relief” in the form of reduced pension and health care benefits for public employees. The state should pay for its mandates, including school district and municipal pension contributions, through a more progressive state tax structure, increased state aid to schools, and increased revenue sharing with municipalities.

The failure to uphold the pension promises made to public workers and retirees is contributing to a brain drain in the public sector, notably among teachers. The assault on public worker pay, pensions, and job security is also driving down private-sector wages because private employers have less competition from public employers for employees.

The addition of Tiers 5 and 6 did little to help the state through the fiscal problems generated by the 2007-09 housing and stock market crash, economic recession, and state revenue fall. Most of the savings from reduced employer contributions and employee benefits for new hires won't be realized for many years. Governors Paterson and Cuomo, at the urging of big money donors, joined the Republicans in scapegoating public workers' pay and pensions for fiscal problems rather than accepting the necessity of returning to more progressive tax structures that would raise rates on high incomes and cut corporate subsidies. 

New York's pensions are over 90 percent funded and consistently among the top five state pensions in terms of funding. While some management pensions may be unjustifiably high, the pensions of teachers and other public workers are reasonable and were negotiated in good faith. They are deferred wages that offset the lower wages public workers receive compared to their private sector counterparts. New York's defined-benefit pensions should be preserved. 

Protection of Collective Bargaining Rights

The Public Employees Fair Employment Act, commonly known as the Taylor Law, provides public employees in New York with a right to: 

  • Join an employee organization to collectively negotiate with public employers over their terms and conditions of employment;

  • Invoke procedures to resolve an impasse in negotiations;

  • Have disputes heard before The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB); and in exchange for this, public employees are prohibited from striking.

This law has been in existence for nearly 40 years. In 1982, the Triborough amendment to the Taylor Law was enacted to prohibit a public employer from altering any provision of an expired labor agreement until a new agreement is reached. 

By giving public employees the right to bargain collectively, the statute has helped promote cooperative relationships between government and its employees, which proponents of the statute maintain must be protected today.

Anti-public employee groups have pushed for amendments to the Taylor Law that would weaken the rights of public sector employees including abolishing the Triborough amendment.

If elected, would you oppose amendments to the New York State Taylor Law that would change the balance in collective bargaining between public employees and public employers?

Yes

Comments: 

If the Triborough Amendment were repealed, management would have no incentive to negotiate a fair contract because it could then change the contract as it saw fit after it expired.

Safe Staffing in Health Care Facilities

The ample staffing of nurses and health care workers and their services in many of our hospitals and health facilities has been cut to dangerously low levels and there is currently no recognized standard for appropriate staffing levels for such facilities.

There is a clear connection between the amount of nursing staffing hours and the quality of care that patients receive. A growing body of evidence has shown that the rate of mortality in acute care settings decreases with a higher rate of the number of registered nurses-to-patients. Further, the rate of injury and infection decreases with increased licensed nursing staff. Research shows that appropriate nursing interventions can reduce the length of stay in acute care settings and improve the quality of life in long-term care settings.

For close to a decade, NYSUT and other health care unions have advocated for legislation (S. 3691a/A. 6571) that requires acute care facilities and nursing homes to implement certain direct care nurse-to-patient ratios in all nursing units and impose penalties for violations of these ratios.

This legislation is needed in New York state to protect patient safety, to protect the delivery of quality health care, and to improve the working conditions of health care professionals. Licensed nurses constitute the highest percentage of direct health care staff in acute care facilities and have a central role in health care delivery. Inadequate and poorly monitored nurse staffing practices jeopardize the delivery of quality health care services and adversely impact the health of patients who enter acute care facilities, resulting in dangerous medical errors and patient infections.

The enactment of this bill would help ensure that the public receive safe, quality, and appropriate health care and establish satisfactory minimum nurse-to-patient staff plans both in hospitals and health care facilities providing nursing services through the following provisions:

  • Authorizing the Commissioner of Health to issue regulations to establish minimum patient staffing plans, require compliance with such staffing plan at all times, require adequate staff orientation and clinical competency, and set standards for public disclosure of the facility’s staffing plan, including actual staffing experience; and

  • Requiring the Commissioner of Health to consider staffing violations when reviewing applications and renewals of operating certificates for acute care facilities.

If elected, would you support legislation that establishes staffing standards for licensed nurses in acute care facilities and nursing homes to the satisfaction of the employees to whom it affects?

Yes

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