Jan. 12, 2015

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Funding for public education is a ‘moral issue’

uupdate 1-12-15

The concept of a properly funded public education as a civil right—a precept at the heart of UUP's legislative initiatives for the new budget session—drew hundreds of people Monday to the Capitol's "Million Dollar Staircase" for the first of a series of planned rallies to champion chronically underfunded social justice issues.

UUP had a strong showing at the rally. President Fred Kowal led the way, joined by VP for Professionals Philippe Abraham, VP for Academics Jamie Dangler, Secretary Eileen Landy and Treasurer Rowena Blackman-Stroud.

Kowal said it was no surprise that public education—including public higher education—ended up as the first topic headlined in the Monday rallies.

"I think it's imperative that the public be aware of this central issue of justice, which is at the heart of what UUP has been fighting for and which is being articulated today: access to education, affordable education, support for our state hospitals and solutions to the grinding issue of student debt," Kowal said.

Just weeks ago, UUP announced a major package of legislative proposals which outline innovative ways to properly fund SUNY, encourage the hiring and diversification of faculty and promote a system for rewarding campuses that diversify their faculty and student body and open up full-time positions for part-time and contingent academic and professional faculty.

Two key themes are at the heart of the proposal. The first is getting the state to provide 50 percent of the funding for SUNY's operating budget—something that has not occurred in years and which could end the state's practice of relying on tuition increases for operating funds. Such funding would also ensure the long-term survival of the SUNY hospitals.

The second is to create a plan for the forgiveness of student loans, which would enable more young adults to seriously consider attending college.

Dubbed "Moral Mondays," the protests are part of a national social justice campaign that asks lawmakers and governors to search their conscience as they weigh the funding of important but often overlooked causes—education, health care, workers' rights and fair treatment of society's often marginalized members, such as immigrants.

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and leader of the Moral Monday movement, carried the rally with a rousing speech that invoked scriptural references about the duty of adults to care for children, as well as the civil rights message of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as the nation prepares to observe King's birthday. Among the featured speakers were AFT President Randi Weingarten and NYSUT Executive VP Andy Pallotta.

The rally's message rang true with the philosophy that UUP will carry into budget negotiations, Kowal said: An affordable public education is a basic human and civil right.

"It is a fundamental principal that UUP has held to, that there is a right to affordable, accessible public higher education and health care," Kowal said. "That is why all of our institutions—from the technology sector campuses, to the university centers and hospitals—must be secured for all time. I've always seen it as a moral issue."

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