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CONTACT: Mike Lisi (518) 640-6600
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February 10, 2015

UUP to lawmakers: Invest in SUNY; reject performance-based funding and save teacher preparation programs

Click here for UUP's testimony

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget threatens the quality, access and affordability of public higher education in New York state, according to Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., president of United University Professions, the union representing academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York.

Testifying today at a public hearing by the Legislature’s joint fiscal committees, Kowal said the 2015-16 Executive Budget continues a trend of the state’s disinvestment in public higher education. What Kowal called a “superficial 1 percent increase” in state support for SUNY is “far short of what is needed.”

“This Executive Budget fails to provide funding necessary to support SUNY’s public hospitals and the basic expenses of the University’s state-operated campuses,” he said. “This can be tolerated no longer. The state must provide SUNY with its fair share to fulfill its mission to provide educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access.”

The proposed budget also contains a number of new initiatives that would adversely affect SUNY and its students, with a new performance-based funding proposal topping the list. Under the governor’s proposal, campuses would have 10 percent of their funding withheld until they submit—and the SUNY Board of Trustees approves—plans to improve student success, graduate more students and get them into the workforce.

Kowal has said the proposal will force campuses to meet certain unknown performance metrics to earn incentive funding. Since 2008, state funding for SUNY state-operated institutions has been cut by nearly 30 percent. The plan also proposal offers financial incentives, or bonuses, to campus presidents who aggressively work to open their campuses to START-UP NY.

“Let’s call this what it is,” Kowal said of the financial incentives. “It’s a bribe for those who already earn the highest salaries in our system.”

To truly improve SUNY student success and graduation rates, the state must agree to a genuine Maintenance of Effort and contribute at least 50 percent in aid to SUNY. Kowal urged lawmakers to increase state funding for SUNY’s operating costs by $131.4 million.

“For far too long, the state has depended on students for the bulk of SUNY funding. Students, through tuition and fees, account for approximately 63 percent of SUNY’s funding,” he said.

Kowal also called on lawmakers to reject Executive Budget provisions that would allow teacher preparation programs at SUNY, CUNY and private colleges to be closed based on student test scores. He spoke out against new admission requirements for graduate-level teacher education and re-registration mandates for certified teachers.

Kowal took issue with the governor’s proposal for tenure process changes for new teachers; it would require new teachers to stay on probation until they receive five consecutive effective ratings on the state teacher evaluation system. New teachers who failed to achieve the rating at any time during probation would be forced to restart the process.

“It could be the de-facto end of teacher tenure, thereby presenting the teaching profession as an unstable career path for young people and turning the teaching profession in New York state into one that relies on a contingent workforce,” Kowal said.

Kowal also urged legislators to consider UUP’s Student Loan Refinancing Program as a long-term solution to student debt. UUP’s plan would be open to all SUNY graduates with state or federal student loans as of 2008 who hold an associate or bachelor’s degree from a state-operated SUNY school. He said UUP’s plan is better than the governor’s proposal, which would start with 2015 graduates and disqualify graduates who earn more than $50,000 annually.

“UUP is concerned that as proposed, the governor’s plan would provide temporary relief, delay inevitable payments and would encourage voluntary poverty,” Kowal testified.

Kowal also urged lawmakers to take action on UUP’s other concerns with the Executive Budget, including:

  • Reversing the governor’s proposed reduction in the state subsidy for SUNY’s three teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse. The governor wants to cut the subsidy by 22 percent—by $19 million to $69 million. UUP asked lawmakers to restore the subsidy to $128 million;
  • Taking $700 million proposed for a new hospital in Brooklyn and instead using it to bolster outpatient services offered by SUNY Downstate Medical Center and existing hospitals;
  • Rejecting Article VII budget language to allow private investors to own and operate SUNY’s state-run public hospitals; and
  • Restoring a $1.3 million cut to SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program, which serves under-resourced and underprepared students and provides them opportunities for a successful future.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 37,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.


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