March 6, 2019

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Lawmakers pledge support for EOP, TAP

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Above, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, speaks at a late-morning rally March 6 in the state Capitol.

For UUP members who work in SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program, and the students they teach, March 6 was a day of affirmation, heartfelt personal stories, and solid promises from lawmakers that they will be remembered in the upcoming state budget.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was a counselor in an opportunity program at Stony Brook University that was a precursor to the system-wide EOP, stopped to greet more than 200 students from SUNY and the City University of New York as they gathered in a room at Empire State Plaza to prepare for a late-morning rally and visits with lawmakers.

UUP President Fred Kowal introduced Heastie as “an incredible ally,” noting that the speaker has described advocacy day for the opportunity programs at SUNY and CUNY as one of his favorite days of the entire legislative session.

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Heastie promises help

“I’d say in a $170 billion budget, this is one of the smartest investments that we make,” said Heastie, above with EOP students. “I do want you to remember that this program is at the top of the list.”

From there, students moved to the so-called “Million Dollar Staircase” in the Capitol, renowned for its acoustics and central location in the building as a favorite place for a rally. Nearly a dozen lawmakers joined the rally—for SUNY’s opportunity programs and its Tuition Assistance Program—and several of them spoke, including Glick and Sen. Toby Stavisky, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

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UUP President Fred Kowal, above, also spoke, as did NYSUT President Andrew Pallotta and PSC/CUNY President Barbara Bowen.

Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Flatbush) told students that she strongly supported full TAP funding and said it should have its own line item in the state budget. “We’re with you and we’re working for you,” she said, as students cheered.

UUP is pushing for lawmakers to add $65 million to the state budget to close the TAP gap, a funding gap that is harshly impacting cash-strapped campuses. TAP provides access to a public college education for low and middle-income students. In 2011, the state reduced funding for TAP, forcing SUNY campuses to absorb the shortfall.

Greetings and meetings

Students fanned out for meetings with lawmakers, at their offices and off the Senate and Assembly floors. Assembly Member Marianne Buttenschon, a Utica Democrat and member of the Higher Education Committee, formally greeted a group of SUNY EOP students during the session and used the introduction to tout the benefits of the program to her Assembly colleagues.

UUP seeks a restoration of the $5.3 million in EOP funds that the governor cut in his Executive Budget proposal. The union is also pressing lawmakers to increase the amount of EOP funding. The program has been cut from the state budget every year for the past several years, only to be restored at the last minute by the Legislature.

In addition to the restoration of funds and a budget increase, UUP hopes that lawmakers can persuade the governor to stop the annual practice of eliminating EOP funds from the budget.

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