Huge New York rally calls for the state to 'get it right'

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Thousands of parents, students, educators and engaged citizens packed the plaza outside the statehouse in Albany, N.Y., on June 8 to demand fair and equitable school funding, an end to over-reliance on expensive corporate-developed tests, restoration of local school control, and other reforms that can restore the future of public education in the Empire State. The One Voice United rally, one of the biggest mass demonstrations that New York's state capital has seen in decades, also highlighted the need to protect the safety of students and staff, restore investments in higher education, institute progressive tax reform, and preserve vital services at the State University of New York's Downstate Medical Center.

NYSUT One Voice Rally

Dick Iannuzzi, president of the AFT-affiliated New York State United Teachers and an AFT vice president (pictured below left), kicked off the rally with a demand, repeated by the crowd, that the state "get it right" when it comes to the fight for public education and called for an end to the overtesting and underfunding that is hurting students. Thousands of parents, teachers, students, union members and community members—stretching from one end of the vast plaza to the other—roared their support as Iannuzzi made it clear the mammoth Albany rally is not the culmination but "the beginning of a fight and a journey to move public education in the right direction."

"We won't shy away from offering solutions—that's what we do," the NYSUT president declared, vowing to continue to "engage every stakeholder in the struggle" with a firm commitment "to the values and principles we stand for." The event, he stressed, is not "against anyone—today is for children. It is a day for re-examining how we look at testing and the achievement gap, poverty and the wealth gap, and equity and fairness."

After seeing public education come under siege across the country, Iannuzzi recognized a need to create "a New York state moment where we come together to speak with one voice about the future of public education—celebrating educators, not demonizing them; supporting quality in higher education, not gimmicks and sideshows and pathways that lead to no place." He also offered support for the rights of first-generation "DREAMERs," discussed fixing the broken and undemocratic tax cap, and challenged those who dismiss teachers' concerns as merely a way to dodge accountability in schools.

Dick Iannuzzi, president of the AFT-affiliated New York State United Teachers and an AFT vice president, at the NYSUT One Voice Rally

"We don't have any concerns about accountability if you do it right and it's fair!" Iannuzzi said. There wouldn't be tension, he added, "if you didn't put tests before instruction. Or test obsessively, ... or ignore the voice of parents and teachers!"

Standing atop a box at the podium to take in the massive throng of rallygoers gathered on the plaza, AFT president Randi Weingarten waved a Baldwinsville Teachers Association towel to whip the crowd into a frenzy and asserted, "We are here to reclaim the promise of public education. If we do not speak with one voice, then we cannot fight against this growing inequality and inequity."

Weingarten's call to arms was echoed by United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, who is also an AFT vice president, and Joyce Powell of the National Education Association. All three leaders made it clear that the event was focused on a fight for the very future of public education. "I would rather take on that [fight] with people like all of you," Mulgrew declared, because we "are the people who have decided to make a difference in the lives of children."

The state AFL-CIO and the New York state chapter of the NAACP also added their powerful voices to the calls for true reform. Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said: "You are not in this fight alone! Your union brothers and sisters across New York state are here with you. Your fight for the future of public education in this state is everybody's fight!"

Cornelius Clark, president of the Troy NAACP, agreed, saying: "We come to lend our voice to those who are fighting for children to have all the resources they need. We are here to say: Let's make sure every school has all the resources required to provide the kind of education our children need to succeed in life."

Full coverage, blogs and videos of the June 8 rally are available on the NYSUT website. [NYSUT]

June 10, 2013