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Our Families Are Under Attack, So We Rise Up


Make The Road DREAMers


I came to this country at the age of two. I have grown up in this country for over two decades, and I am a New Yorker through and through. New York City is where I go to school, where I work, and the place my family and I call home.

But my life here, and my family’s life, is at risk because I am a “Dreamer.” My only protection from being separated from my family is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Donald Trump’s administration has already started trying to tear apart families like mine, including detaining Dreamers like me. Daniel Ramírez, a Dreamer, was detained in Washington. Daniela Vargas, also a Dreamer, was detained in Mississippi. Whether or not Trump decides to repeal DACA, it is clear that our families are under attack.

But, for immigrants like me, there is one key lesson from the first months of the new administration: when we fight back, we win.

When Trump issued the Muslim and refugee ban, it was enormous grassroots opposition, coupled with legal advocacy, that blocked these policies.

When Daniel and Daniela were detained, it was a groundswell of popular support—protests, petitions, and more—that got them free.

When Trump and Paul Ryan tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act and take health insurance away from tens of millions of people, it was ordinary people taking to the streets, town halls, and congressional offices that defeated them.

Despite these early losses, Trump shows no signs of slowing down his anti-immigrant agenda. Having failed to pass healthcare reform, Trump now wants to pass a budget that will allow him to build a wall that we don’t need and spend billions more to terrorize our families. But our communities will defeat his wall and his budget in the same way we’ve beaten him on his other priorities: by taking to the streets.

That’s why, on Monday May 1, at 5pm in Foley Square, I’m joining a coalition of dozens of immigrant, community, and labor organizations to rally for immigrant rights and workers’ rights.

On May 1, whether you were born here or in another country, whatever you believe in or however you got here—we need to stand together and resist together. With 50,000 people packed into Foley Square, we will demand that Trump stop his unjust attacks towards our communities.

Immigrant families are under attack. Workers’ rights are in jeopardy. And Muslims and refugees are in the crosshairs of this administration. Together, we will send a strong message of resistance against Trump’s agenda of hate.

As immigrants, we demand a stop to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies that are separating families throughout the nation and seeking to terrorize us all.

As workers, we demand good jobs, the right to organize and join a union, and for Congress to pass a federal budget that reflects our priorities.

As New Yorkers, we demand respect and dignity for all.

On May 1, with 50,000 people in the streets, we will show that we will not live in fear and that we stand united for a better future for all New Yorkers.

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Yatziri Tovar is a Youth Power Project member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny.

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Déjà Vu in Cuomo's Highlight Accomplishments from New Budget


Cuomo property taxes

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo's April 10 announcement on the passage of the state budget cited several new initiatives and innovations that were included in the budget bills for the new 2017-2018 fiscal year, which began April 1.

But history suggests that at least three of them actually are not really new.

Tuition-free SUNY and CUNY
"With the 2018 Budget, New York leads the nation by making college tuition-free at SUNY and CUNY two- and four-year colleges for working and middle-class families making up to $125,000 per year," says the governor's announcement.

That sounds like a major step forward. Actually, it is something of a reversion to the original philosophy of the two public university systems. SUNY, established in 1948, was created in part as a result of the rising cost of higher education after World War II. Its units were mostly tuition-free or very low tuition until the 1960s. CUNY, established in 1961, was mostly tuition-free or low tuition until 1976. The tuition-free policy was discontinued that year as a result of New York City's fiscal crisis.

But since then, state and federal grants have been available to help low-income students at CUNY as well as at SUNY. The new policy at least partly hearkens back to policies and ideals of the past rather than departing from them.

"Raise the Age"
"The FY 2018 State Budget raises the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old and ensures that young people who commit non-violent crimes receive the intervention and evidence-based treatment they need," notes the governor's announcement. "New York was previously one of only two states in the nation that automatically processed all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, no matter their offense."

The governor is certainly right in calling attention to this as a major reform. He deserves credit for its enactment. But proposals to raise the age date back quite a ways. As Governor Cuomo's Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Juvenile Justice noted in its 2014 report, Recommendations for Juvenile Justice Reform in New York State, which advocated for the change, most states raised the age many years ago. New York was one of the few states not to take this step despite criticism from youth advocates, recommendations from its own State Crime Commission in a report dating from 1931, and other experts.

Shrinking local government
"The FY 2018 Budget continues the Governor's efforts to relieve the property tax burden and builds on the success of the 2 percent property tax cap," says the Governor's announcement. "The typical New York homeowner pays 2.5 times more in local property taxes than in state income taxes. The Budget will empower citizens to control the cost of local government by requiring counties to assemble local governments to find efficiencies for real, recurring taxpayer savings. To ensure transparency and an active role for citizens in reducing their tax burden, public hearings and input will be required as part of the development of the shared services plans."

New York has about 4,000 local governments. The governor's initiative is a fresh variation on an old theme: reducing the number of local governments, consolidating them, or urging them to share services in order to reduce the burden on taxpayers.

History suggests Governor Cuomo's new initiative may have a hard time getting traction.

New Yorkers may complain about taxes, but they seem indifferent to state initiatives to eliminate or consolidate services. Consolidation threatens the jobs of local officials. Citizens are apprehensive about changing something that is familiar even if it means greater efficiencies and more economical operation.

In 2013, Cuomo offered a program of state support to promote reduction of local governments through consolidation. There was little interest.

Governor Eliot Spitzer appointed a Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness.

Governor George Pataki had a Commission on Local Government Reform.  

Governor Mario Cuomo appointed a Commission on Consolidation of Local Governments.

None made any appreciable headway.

In 1935, Governor Herbert Lehman told the Legislature that "There are too many units of government in the State of New York and...the resulting complexity of local government cannot produce efficiency or economy." Legislators were not interested.

In 1929, Governor Franklin Roosevelt asserted "even the school children know that we maintain many useless offices in our towns, that many functions now exercised by town officials should be assumed by county management...in the final analysis...the average taxpayer does not know why or where his tax money is being spent." In 1932, he cited "great waste and duplication" and "thoroughly unbusinesslike practices." But even then, with the Great Depression undermining local governments' tax base, very little happened.

In 1926, Governor Alfred E. Smith, who had reorganized and consolidated state government, called New York's complicated system of local government "costly, wasteful and obsolete...we have too many political divisions, too many officials, too little efficiency." The pattern of counties, cities, and towns had changed little since the beginning of the state. Over the years, special districts for sewers, water, etc., "were created without any understanding of the results that would follow because they overlap one on the other and set up within one township all sorts of overlapping special governments and special tax districts."

Two years later, Smith said the sprawling system of local governments represented "the old-fashioned, foolish way of doing things...inefficiency...we are still in the Middle Ages of government."

Among Smith's proposals: abolish the five counties in New York City; elevate densely populated Nassau County to the status of a city; merge Dutchess and Putnam counties, Rensselaer and Columbia counties, and Warren, Washington, and Saratoga counties into three large counties.

Smith made a strong case: consolidation would save taxpayer money, improve services, make government more responsive, and streamline management of state aid for highways, welfare, and other services.

But Smith's proposals produced very little public interest and support. The Legislature declined to take any action.

There may be more action under Cuomo's new approach. But history does not offer much cause for optimism.

These three examples suggest that looking back into history can often help inform current policy discussions. Often, there are reverberations of past policy proposals in innovative new ones.

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Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

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A Smart Move for Homeless Families, Neighborhood Residents and City Taxpayers


de blasio mccray banks shelter

Mayor de Blasio visits Bellevue Men's Shelter (photo: Michael Appleton)


Residents of Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood have been plagued in recent years by crimes attributed to clients of the 800 bed men’s shelter on East 30th Street and First Avenue.

Shelter clients have reportedly defecated in front of buildings, publicly masturbated, and exposed themselves to children in windows of classrooms. Since the shelter does not prohibit violent parolees or other criminals, neighborhood residents, as well as proprietors and customers of nearby businesses, have reported being raped, robbed, assaulted and stabbed by shelter clients. Fugitives and child sexual predators have hidden among shelter clients and, just recently, a man was arrested outside the shelter for alleged heroin sales.

Neighborhood residents are mindful of the homelessness crisis, and have willingly carried their share of the city’s burden for decades. But they also desire to preserve their quality of life and the safety of their community. They have long requested that the 30th Street shelter be re-purposed as a shelter for homeless families instead of single men.

A recent confluence of events should inspire the de Blasio administration, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and Governor Cuomo to consider their proposal. It makes good sense for homeless families, city taxpayers, and the city’s budget watchdogs. As the mayor continues to roll out his new shelter plan, he should incorporate these ideas.

Consider these three developments:

1. Covenant House, the sanctuary for homeless youth, and the EDC have proposed development of the block containing its West Side headquarters, between West 40th and 41st Streets, Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

2. Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget released January 17 called for the sale of the Hunter College Masters of Fine Arts building on the Covenant House block so that “up to $60 million of the proceeds” can be used to fund the budget of the City University of New York.

3. City Comptroller Scott Stringer reported that New York City spent nearly $73 million on hotels for homeless families in the twelve months ending last October 31, sometimes paying as much as $600 per night for a room.

Housing homeless men in new or existing buildings on the Covenant House block on the West Side would free up the 30th Street men’s shelter for homeless families now housed at expensive Manhattan and outer-borough hotels. It would also offer an array of other benefits.

Any vacationer who has had to spend a night or two stuck at an airport hotel with young children knows how desolate they can be for youngsters. There is no play space, inside or out; no entertainment besides TV; and no real stimulation. Meals are limited to room service, the hotel restaurant, or take-out or delivery from a poor array of choices. Children are understandably “bouncing off the walls” within a few hours.

But New York’s homeless families can be left in hotel settings for weeks and months at a time.  On average, the city’s homeless families spend over 400 days in shelter before being moved to permanent homes.

A family-oriented homeless shelter at East 30th Street would allow homeless children access to common play and study space, nutritious institutional dining with other families, and parks, schools, churches, libraries, and the healthcare facilities of Kips Bay. They could be spared the social isolation that comes with living in a hotel and, instead, be integrated into a community of similarly situated children, as well as those of the neighborhood. Moreover, their parents could have ready, free, day-care in the shelter while getting help or finding a job.

Temporarily housing homeless men on the Covenant House block would place them in a largely commercial district near hotels and other transients. The city could consolidate social services for Covenant House clients, men’s shelter clients, and out-of-shelter homeless people who congregate near Port Authority Bus Terminal. Locating the men’s shelter near the NYPD stronghold of Times Square and near the borders of three police precincts would better deter criminal activity.

The Covenant House/EDC proposes their development include some affordable housing. But the site lays near the Lincoln Tunnel entrance and adjoins the PATH bus terminal ramp. It’s desolate and mostly unsuited to permanent housing; EDC should look elsewhere for affordable permanent residences. But it is a much better locale for temporarily housing homeless men than the bustling residential neighborhood of Kips Bay.

While it will certainly be necessary to renovate both the 30th Street shelter and the Hunter College building (or to build a new building, as Covenant House proposes), the savings from placing 200 to 300 homeless families in a community shelter instead of costly Manhattan hotels would recover those costs in just a few years and generate tens of millions in cost savings prospectively.

The de Blasio administration, Governor Cuomo, and the EDC should move thoughtfully and creatively on the Covenant House site. They have a rare chance to do good for homeless families and the residents of Kips Bay, and to do well for the taxpayers of New York.

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Lauren Pohl, an attorney, is the founder of Kidz Central Station. Thandi Gordon Stein-Sapir is a fashion industry executive. Both are leaders of Third and 33rd, a group that advocates for neighborhood safety and improvement.

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Cuomo’s Excelsior Plan Falls Far Short of Making CUNY Free Again


cuomo clinton

(photo above via The Governor's Office) (image below by Becca Glaser)


With the regularity of a ritual, every year the advocates of high-quality public higher education make a pilgrimage to Albany. Every year, for over 40 years, the request has been the same: stop de-funding higher education. And nearly every year, for over 40 years, the Legislature and Governor do the same thing: cut funding and approve tuition hikes. As a result, annual per-student government expenditures in New York’s public higher education system languish at an average of $8,830; while private colleges nationwide spend an average of $23,100.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, a college degree is what a high school diploma used to be. Yet, public and private higher education are increasingly separate and unequal -- and increasingly expensive.

It wasn’t always this way. CUNY was free for New Yorkers from 1847 to 1975, when the institution was majority white. The state imposed tuition through a Wall Street-aligned “Emergency Financial Control Board” in 1976. It was also the first year the university system enrolled a majority students of color.

The steady retreat of government from the provision of higher education as a public good has allowed Wall Street loan sharks to advance. Poor and working-class students have been the casualties, stuck relying on loans or longer and longer hours at low-wage jobs to get themselves through school.

The CUNY administration likes to tout the institution as the “American Dream Machine,” proclaiming in sunny subway ads that “80% graduate debt-free.” They don’t mention a darker truth: over 50% of those who enroll don’t graduate at all, falling prey to a lack of financial aid, the high cost of living in New York City, and the frequent unavailability of classes that are required for graduation (students call this “getting CUNYed”).

Facilities across CUNY are falling apart. And the faculty are increasingly overworked and underpaid -- over half of CUNY’s courses are taught by adjuncts making an average of $3,275 per course. With a full-time teaching load, that would bring you $19,650 per year before taxes, and put you in poverty.

This year in Albany was supposed to be different. On April 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a deal had been reached regarding the state budget, including approval for his Excelsior Scholarship program, which is now being billed as the first tuition-free college plan passed by a state.

Cuomo is selling us a bill of goods.

He says his “Excelsior” plan makes higher education free for “middle class” families. He does not mention that it actually increases tuition by $1,000 over the next five years (pending approval from the Board of Trustees). Cuomo claims that low-income students currently can cover their tuition with existing state and federal aid, but this is not generally true. Decades of funding cuts, tuition hikes, absurdly low income limits and other restrictions on aid mean that thousands of students already struggle to pay tuition and their costs of living. Now, thanks to Cuomo, they may have hundreds of dollars more in tuition to pay.

The Excelsior Scholarship is a smokescreen for this backdoor tuition hike that will fall on many of the neediest students, who do not qualify for the aid that Cuomo touts. To maintain eligibility for the scholarship, students must take 30 credits per year -- an average of five classes per semester in a standard school year, which is more than the minimum for being full-time. This is an impossibility for students who must work to provide for their families or care for children. With this inordinate course load, students must also maintain a certain GPA, to be decided by their college.

Undocumented students remain completely excluded from financial aid.

It gets worse. The Excelsior program will also take from the poorest students to fill the coffers of the state. At current rates of enrollment, the $1,000 tuition hike could bring in over $274 million in additional revenue at CUNY alone, given its 274,000 full-time students. It could bring in an additional $400 million from SUNY’s 400,000 undergraduates.

Yet, the state plans to spend only $163 million on the Excelsior Scholarship, leading to a net revenue increase for the government, in part paid for by those students who can’t qualify for the scholarship because they are not able to take five classes at a time.

tuition flatCuomo’s plan aids middle-income students while turning poor and working class students into a profit center, continuing the 40-year trend of reducing access for the poor to public higher education and shifting the funding burden to students. It also makes no provision for badly-needed investment in the CUNY system: including infrastructure, adjunct pay parity, and support for struggling students.

And there’s one more thing. For those who are able to maintain four years of five classes per semester and meet GPA requirements each semester, Cuomo’s plan will force its recipients to remain in New York for the same number of years that they received the scholarship. If graduates move out of state, they will be charged with debt equivalent to the tuition covered by the Excelsior Scholarship, sending more young people into the jaws of the student loan industry.

We have a better idea.

Higher education is a free public good in dozens of countries across the world, all of which are less wealthy that the United States. It used to be the norm here too. It’s time to bring it back.

The Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again is gathering 30,000 petition signatures to place the “Make CUNY Free Again Law” on the ballot in November’s election. Our proposal will do what Governor Cuomo would not. It will end separate and unequal in New York City’s higher education system by requiring the City to ask the State to authorize a tax on the top 1%. The law will guarantee funding to CUNY on parity with the median per-student expenditure in the private sector, guarantee any New York City resident (U.S. citizen or not) tuition-free access to a college education or the remedial programs necessary to prepare for college, stipends to remove poverty as a barrier to student success, and equity in pay between part-time and full-time faculty and staff, and between the public and private sectors.

For 40 years, the political class has pushed higher education farther out of reach for poor and working-class New Yorkers. If our campaign is successful, on November 7, 2017 we the people will go to the polls to have our say: education is a human right.

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The Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again is an independent initiative of CUNY students, faculty, staff, and community members in New York City. On Facebook & Twitter @MakeCUNYfree.

Signed:
Erik Forman (@_erikforman) teaches in the public K-12 and higher education system in New York City and is the co-founder of the NYC Social Justice Curriculum Fair.

Tim Hardin is an Inwood-based activist, Army combat veteran, and NYC DSA organizer who attends BMCC and advocates for a free CUNY, single-payer healthcare in NY, and other local and state grassroots campaigns.

Jennifer Hyman graduated from Hunter College with a BA in Political Science and Philosophy and from SUNY Binghamton with an MA in Social, Political, Ethical, and Legal Philosophy in 2011.

Rosa Squillacote is a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center; Hunter College adjunct professor and alum; and organizer with the CUNY branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Joseph van der Naald is a PhD student in the program in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Conor Tomás Reed is a CUNY doctoral student, scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and organizer in the Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again.

Joseph Sellman is a community organizer and regional board member of Citizen Action New York, an active member of Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY), and an ‘83 alum of Baruch College.

Meghann Williams is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at Hunter College and is president of the Hunter College Graduate Student Association.

Tiffany Berruti is a queer undergraduate activists at Hunter College, and is currently involved in NYC DSA.

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The Tax Day March Is Not Just About Trump’s Taxes


womens march

(photo: @womensmarch)


On Tax Day, hundreds of thousands of protesters will take to the streets to demand President Trump release his tax returns and hold the wealthy accountable for taxes that the rest of us pay every year.

Our group, the Center for Popular Democracy, will be among those calling for a tax system that ensures everyone contributes their fair share to our country so that all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to reach their highest potential. We cannot allow Wall Street banks and billionaires to use their wealth and power to repeatedly shortchange us.

The nine largest banks in America, for example, have used loopholes and other tax dodging schemes to lower their tax rate from the official rate of 35 percent to just 18.6 percent, a lower rate than what millions of middle class families pay. That tax dodge alone has allowed the banks to avoid paying some $80 billion in taxes between 2008 and 2015.

These figures do not include offshore tax havens, where Fortune 500 companies have stashed $2.6 trillion in profits on which they owe $767 billion in taxes. That's enough to pay the cost of Bernie Sanders' debt-free college plan and more. They also do not account for the taxes dodged using the "carried interest" loophole which makes it possible for one hedge fund manager who makes $4.6 million per day to pay a tax rate lower than what a teacher or firefighter might pay.

These billions of dollars could have been used to fund public programs that provide critical services that millions of New Yorkers rely on, like public housing, healthcare, and education.

In fact, even some of New York’s wealthiest residents agree. In March, 80 wealthy New Yorkers wrote to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, urging him to increase taxes on the rich to provide infrastructure services that benefit all New Yorkers. “We need to invest in pathways out of poverty and up the economic ladder for all of our fellow citizens, including strong public education from pre-K to college. And, we need to invest in the fragile bridges, tunnels, waterlines, public buildings, and roads that we all depend on” they wrote.

The state also recently passed its state budget which included a two-year extension on the “millionaires’ tax” expected to “offset the state’s $3.5 billion deficit and fund income tax cuts for people making under $300,000,” as reported by Reuters.

New York should lead the way forward by making the “millionaires’ tax” permanent and closing loopholes that have allowed Trump’s donors and the wealthiest executives on Wall Street to avoid paying huge sums in taxes in recent years.

Most Americans know that our current tax laws are steeply slanted in favor of the rich and powerful – and they are not happy about it. A Pew Research poll found that roughly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans “are bothered a lot by the feeling that some corporations aren’t paying what’s fair in federal taxes, and 61 percent say the same about some wealthy people.”

Trump has his own sordid history with the IRS. The New York Times obtained documents showing Trump reported a staggering loss of nearly one billion dollars in 1995, which could have allowed him to legally avoid paying federal taxes for 18 years.

In 1789 Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Almost three centuries later, only one of these things is certain and the other is unfairly avoided by those with wealth and privilege.

Unlike Donald Trump, most Americans don't mind paying their taxes. What they object to is letting the rich and powerful avoid paying theirs. It’s time for the one percent to step up to the plate.

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Tony Perlstein is Deputy Director of Campaigns for the Center for Popular Democracy. On Twitter @popdemoc.

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Cuomo’s ‘Progressive’ Budget Misses the Mark


Jumaane Williams City Council

Council Member Jumaane Williams, the author (photo: William Alatriste)


Governor’s budget epitomizes the need to define what "progressive" means

The new state budget, like almost all budgets, has some beneficial things that should be celebrated. However, to call this budget “progressive” clearly means that in this era of Trump, the term is being stretched to the point of possibly having no meaning at all. And frankly, we should also examine what it means to be part of the "resistance."

The main example being touted is “Raise the Age,” which of course we should take time to celebrate and give credit where it’s due. It should also be put in perspective. This state was the second to last state to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 -- meaning 48 other states have been progressive on this years before us. So if this makes New York progressive, what were they? Additionally, what was just passed is a watered down version of what most advocates say would be most helpful.

Let’s also look at tuition-free college. Again, it sounds good when Governor Cuomo talks about it, and it is better than what we had -- but how many people does it impact? If you don’t finish your degree in four years, you’re not eligible, or you have to repay any scholarship money. This is unacceptable. For example, only 10.4 percent of first-time/full-time students from CUNY City College graduate on time.

The Excelsior Scholarship also doesn’t help the poorest students, who need the help the most. As we celebrate this win with pictures of Bernie Sanders, we must ask if this is really what he had in mind when he brought the issue to prominence last year.

Then there is 421-a, which has been euphemistically re-branded as the “Affordable New York” housing program. This is perhaps the single worst item in the state budget. The governor missed the mark completely and aligned himself more with Donald Trump, who helped create 421-a in the first place, than the New Yorkers in need of affordable housing.

First, the new program is completely unlinked with the renewal of rent regulations -- the only real leverage tenants had in extending rent stabilization laws along with the real estate tax break that is 421-a. Next, the revival of the 421-a tax abatement gives away billions to real estate developers without spurring true affordable housing. The new program is worse than the old one, which expired two years ago.

This tax break gives away a lot for very little. In essence, it takes away valuable resources from effective affordable housing strategies to instead line the pockets of wealthy developers, like the current president, who is one of the biggest recipients taking advantage of city taxpayers.

Over 10 years, this tax abatement will cost the city nearly a billion additional dollars in unrealized tax revenue, causing similar pain to the cuts we are facing from the president.

Adding insult to injury, the governor aligned with Senate Republicans and took away the city’s ability to do anything to shape the program -- an ability that existed in the previous version.

What’s worse still is that even after 421-a expired, new construction permits continued without pause, proving this tax abatement is an inexplicable, unnecessary billion-dollar gift to developers.

Let’s be clear, those touting this as a “progressive” state budget had the power to do all of this before the Trump Era, but chose not to. And even these measures are overly compromised, half-loafs of what they could and should be.

On a separate note, it’s unclear what benefit, if any, the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) played through aligning with Senate Republicans. Their existence doesn’t seem to have been necessary in getting a weaker than requested Raise the Age in exchange for a thorough tax giveaway to developers. The Assembly and Senate Democrats could have done that deal on their own.

Credit is deserved to the Senate Democrats and particularly to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for any progress we do now have. With that said, they also must immediately begin work on strengthening Raise the Age, and go back to the drawing board with the failed new 421-a.

I don’t write any of this to say that there is nothing good in the state budget. But, my constituents and I expect more. New York City and New York State deserve better.

As an experienced community organizer, I am trained to celebrate the small victories along the way to the final goal. And yes, people who are pushed to do things they otherwise wouldn’t should be rewarded as well. That is part of the political game. But, it should be put in context.

We should see and acknowledge the differences between someone who has conviction to fight at all costs for progressive values and someone who wears whatever cloak is politically expedient.

The new state budget includes some good, even some historic things. But to tout it loudly as a “progressive” budget seems more on the expediency side than any true conviction. These false proclamations should make us question what the word “progressive” even means today. Are we allowing mediocrity in the name of the people, more for self-gain than public service?

I remember just a few years ago New York residents were too proud to let Rudy Giuliani get away with using New York to tout a vastly inflated record as a passport to the presidency. At this point, I hope that aligning with “progressive” actually ends up delivering what advocates truly want and residents desperately need. If not, I hope that people of conscience in New York, who kept Rudy in check, will have the same pride in 2020.

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Jumaane Williams is a City Council member representing parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams.

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Pulling the Public into Police Accountability


nypd graduation

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


The NYPD released its new body-worn camera policy last week. For the first time ever, the department relied on public opinion to help guide that policy. With help from the Policing Project, a New York-based organization dedicated to bringing the public voice to policing policy, more than 25,000 New Yorkers and 50 community-based organizations gave their input.

Unfortunately, many of those New Yorkers were disappointed to see that their top recommendations were not accepted by the NYPD. But while we sympathize with the desire to see the NYPD adopt more of the public’s views – and while some of our own preferences diverged from the policy adopted by the NYPD – it’s important to recognize that the NYPD’s policy process was an important step in the right direction and offers significant lessons moving forward.

The public was clear in its views on how the cameras should be used.

For example, members of the public thought officers should not be able to view body camera footage before writing a report on a use-of-force incident. The public also thought a broad array of police interactions should be recorded. And, importantly, the public felt strongly that body camera footage should be more accessible.

The NYPD policy did not accept the public’s recommendations on those key issues.

However, it is important to separate out two issues here: the process and the results. Many New Yorkers may not like the results, but the process offers many guideposts for how to do public input correctly.

In general, we don’t really have a system for public input in policing policy. The only place where we have any form of public accountability in policing today is after something has already gone wrong. There, we have inspectors general and grand juries and civilian review boards. Even body cameras themselves are a form of back-end accountability. This system can help ensure that rules are followed, but it says nothing about what the rules should be in the first place.

The NYPD’s process on body camera protocols proves that democratic engagement on the front end of writing policing rules is both possible and desirable. The NYPD made a number of changes to its policy in response to public opinion, including requiring officers to notify members of the public when they are being recorded, and increasing how long it will retain video, from six months to one year.

Even where it did not follow public opinion, the NYPD responded thoughtfully and in great detail.

The Department should be commended for engaging in this effort. It shows that democratic process around policing is possible, and should become the norm.

But what about the fact that the NYPD ultimately did not follow public opinion on some critical issues? That raises hard questions about what form the public voice in policing should take. Here, there are no easy answers. The very idea of the public having any voice in policing rules is so new that we have no clear models for how to proceed.

Elsewhere in government, we have two very different models for obtaining public input into government decisions. Each gives us something in the way of outcomes.

Decisions made by legislatures tend to be quite responsive to public input. But legislative bodies also can be beholden to special interests, such as police unions. And it can be tough to get legislative bodies to even act in the first place. Look how long it took the City Council to do anything about stop and frisk. And one thing is for sure: legislative bodies never respond to public input in the thorough way the NYPD did here.

On the other hand, administrative agencies are not required to follow public input, even though they are required to obtain it. Their obligation is to make rational decisions, which includes offering reasons—that later, if necessary, can be evaluated by courts—to support the conclusions they come to. Agencies have to open themselves up to public opinion, and respond to it, but they don’t have to follow it. Agencies just have to have a basis for their decisions in fact, even if the public disagrees. Here, the NYPD acted more like an administrative body.

So, which way of incorporating public voice into policing is appropriate? Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. Neither will make everyone happy. For policing we may need a combination.

This process makes clear that it is better to get public input into policing than to have police departments simply do as they choose without consultation.

This process did not make everyone happy. But it was certainly much better than no process at all.

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Barry Friedman is the Director and Founder of the Policing Project at NYU Law School. Maria Ponomarenko is the Deputy Director. They recently led the writing of Report to the NYPD Summarizing Public Feedback on its Proposed Body-Worn Camera Policy.

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After the Excelsior Scholarship


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Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Victory for middle class New Yorkers! The state budget finally passed and it includes a number of college affordability reforms for middle class students. Despite some of the shortfalls of these reforms, they are an exciting step forward in reinvesting in the state’s public university systems after years of structural disinvestment, flat financial aid, and tuition hikes.

These reforms must be treated as initial progress toward greater investment into SUNY and CUNY that will truly eliminate cost as a barrier to access and success.

The newly established Excelsior Scholarship will cover the remaining cost of tuition after SUNY or CUNY students have used their Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and their federal Pell grant awards. Only full-time students who come from families with incomes of less than $125,000, who take 30 credits a year, and who graduate on-time will be eligible by the end of a three-year phase-in.

The budget also established a Part-Time Scholarship (PTS) that is available to community college students based on financial need who take more than six credits but less than 12 credits a semester. Students who qualify may receive an award up to $1,500 for up to four-consecutive semesters only, which would likely leave them without any aid to finish the second half of their degree.

The final deal also includes an idea originally proposed by Senate Republicans called Enhanced TAP (E-TAP), which is an award granted to residents attending private college in the state. Students with family incomes less than $125,000 attending non-profit, degree-granting institutions will receive $3,000 in additional state aid. If the student already receives TAP grants, E-TAP will cover any additional funding needed to meet, but not exceed, the full $3,000 allotment. If the student doesn’t receive TAP, E-TAP will cover the full amount.

Further, the same legislation makes it so the school cannot raise tuition for that student during their time of study and the school must match the award granted under E-TAP in an effort to ensure that an increase in state aid doesn’t reduce the institutional aid a student receives. The rules of the program make it so a student would be eligible for a total of $6,000 in E-TAP, TAP, and institutional aid. However, the program does give schools the opportunity to opt-out of E-TAP and simply offer their students regular TAP awards, should they qualify.

While Governor Cuomo and middle class families are celebrating this victory, there is still a great deal of work to do to make this initiative more inclusive, less penalizing, and more accessible to disadvantaged students who continue to struggle.

Under the new plan, for students who cannot take a 30 credit courseload every year, resident tuition at SUNY and CUNY will increase by $200 annually until 2021 while their TAP awards remain unchanged. And unfortunately, the state’s undocumented students are still excluded from receiving TAP, and by extension, any of the new reforms passed this year such as the Excelsior Scholarship, E-TAP, and the Part-Time Scholarship.

For the most disadvantaged, the news and widespread attention of offering free tuition may encourage more low-income students to consider college as an option -- and that’s a good thing. But we know that tuition is only one piece of the financial puzzle to get students into and through school, and for those students with fewer means to cover books, housing, food and more, the scholarship falls short.

For those students who already attend SUNY or CUNY tuition-free because of TAP and Pell, this scholarship does nothing to actually increase their financial aid. This is especially concerning considering that more than half of CUNY undergraduate students come from family incomes of less than $30,000, making them qualified for enough TAP and Pell awards to cover tuition and allowing for nearly 80 percent of students to graduate debt free. Further, recent research from Sara Goldrick Rab from The Wisconsin Hope Lab finds that 20 percent of community college students are hungry and 13 percent are homeless, further supporting greater financial aid for the most at-need students beyond only covering the cost of tuition.

One of the most damaging parts of the program passed in this state budget agreement includes a provision that will convert both the Excelsior Scholarship and Enhanced TAP dollars granted to students into loans should they leave the state after graduation.

Graduates are required to work and live in the state for the same amount of time they received these awards. This will negatively impact about 20 percent of SUNY students and does not account for graduates who leave to join the military, do community service, or have other extenuating circumstances. Instead of penalizing young adult middle class New Yorkers who were able to successfully graduate on-time and benefit from these programs, state leaders should focus on building a more inclusive economy and creating incentives that reward, not punish, Millennial New Yorkers who stay and work in the state.

Finally, we agree with Governor Cuomo when he speaks about dismally low graduation rates and we support him when he talks about needing to close the college attainment gaps. With a less than 6 percent two-year graduation rate at CUNY community colleges and a less than 15 percent graduation rate at CUNY four-year colleges, it’s clear there needs to be a change. This shouldn’t be surprising when considering that more than 80 percent of incoming CUNY students require some type of remedial coursework. But, eliminating tuition and reducing cost as a barrier to access is only half of the equation to increasing graduation rates, especially among those who are the most academically and economically disadvantaged.

We need to address the above shortfalls of the newly enacted college affordability reforms and strengthen the quality and capacity of SUNY and CUNY to better graduate students on time. This includes greater investment to hire more full-time faculty, dramatically bring to scale proven opportunity programs and supports, and offer need-based financial aid to cover non-tuition related costs.

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Kevin Stump is Northeast Director of Young Invincibles. On Twitter @KevinStump & @YoungInvincible.

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Public Health Week: Get the Lead Out


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(Photo by Dineshraj Goomany)


After nearly three years of grappling with contaminated drinking water, the citizens of Flint, Michigan finally obtained some relief as a federal court approved a settlement mandating replacement of lead pipes. 

As we mark Public Health Week in New York, we must confront the sobering need to “get the lead out” here as well.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin. It is particularly damaging to children, who absorb as much as 90 percent more lead into their bodies than adults. Once ingested, lead flows from the blood to the brain, kidneys, and bones. Children’s organs and bones are immature and more vulnerable than adults’; they also have an incomplete blood-brain barrier.

We have known for some time that high levels of lead can cause severe health impacts – including anemia, kidney disease, abnormal brain function and even death. Yet the medical science now confirms that even low levels of lead can cause permanent damage to our children.

Over the past two years, the tragedy of Flint has stunned the nation -- we watched the drinking water of an entire city become contaminated with lead. 

Now we know this toxic threat extends well beyond Flint - to communities right here in New York. In fact, test results show that lead is even contaminating drinking water in schools and pre-schools, flowing from thousands of fountains and faucets where our kids drink water every day. 

As more schools test their water in New York, they are finding lead. In the latest round of testing in New York City, reports show nine times as many water sources tested above the EPA’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb) compared to tests conducted just a year ago.

Such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Often, we only hear about “elevated” results – i.e., those showing more than 15 ppb of lead in the water. However, there is no safe level of lead.

Moreover, even properly done testing often fails to detect lead in water. Mark Edwards, the Virginia Tech expert who helped Flint residents uncover their tragedy, has even compared lead testing to Russian Roulette. 

The reason for this pervasive problem is simple: all too often, the water delivery systems in our homes and schools are lined with lead – from the pipes to the plumbing and fixtures. In some cases, the service line, which brings water from the main pipe in the street into a home or school – is entirely made of lead. 

So instead of waiting for more tests to confirm this toxin at the tap, we should take a more preventative approach, one that truly prioritizes children's health and safety.

The common-sense solution is to remove lead from pipes, plumbing, and fixtures. And until we’re sure that’s 100 percent done, we can protect our children with filters certified to remove lead, at every tap used for drinking or cooking.

To be sure, undoing this toxic legacy throughout all of our communities will take time. But the first place for us to start is with our schools and daycares, and the other places where our children go each day to learn and play.

Fortunately, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature have finalized a $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act as part of the budget for the new fiscal year. This is a huge boost to efforts to protect drinking water at its source.

However, in February, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released a report that places the state's drinking water infrastructure needs at $40 billion over the next 20 years. Such high estimates make it clear that steady and consistent future funding will be required as well.

As our nation rushed through more than a century of unprecedented economic growth, we allowed toxic health threats like lead to become embedded into the fabric our lives. We allowed manufacturers to put this potent neurotoxin in our paint, gasoline, and many other products.

For decades, public health officials have been working to undo the damage.  Banning lead in gasoline immediately removed a major source of toxic air pollution. Barring lead in paint stopped a major threat to children’s health from becoming even worse, but we are still cleaning up the damage from millions of homes with lead paint, as well as related lead in dust and soil. 

Yet until Flint, few of us were thinking about lead in the pipes and plumbing that bring drinking water right to our faucets. Now we know, and now we must act.  

For the sake of our children’s health, it’s time to get the lead out here in New York.

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Heather Leibowitz, Esq. is the Director of Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization. On Twitter @EnvNY.

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Requiem For A School That Works


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David Baiz, right, with students


Eight years ago, I had a front-row seat at the birth of a new small school in East Harlem. Global Technology Preparatory was crafted by its founding teachers over Sunday brunches at the home of Jacqueline Pryce-Harvey, who would go on to become the school’s assistant principal.

Featuring, among other things, a one-to-one laptop program for its poor students and an after-school program—the result of a partnership with Citizens Schools, a Boston-based nonprofit—Global Tech, as it is known, came to be heralded as one of a slew of innovative Bloomberg-era schools.

By most measures, Global Tech is a school that works. During the Bloomberg years, Global Tech got mostly “A’s” on its school report cards. Under the school’s most recent “quality snapshot,” which measures schools on seven characteristics, Global Tech received a “good” on five, and an “excellent” on two—trust and leadership. Parents and teachers rave about the school. And next school year, it was to become a “host school” in schools Chancellor Carmen Farina’s signature Learning Partners Program, which is “designed to promote interschool collaborative learning and leverage the rich reservoir of expertise that already resides within our school communities,” according to the education department website.

I’ve written before about Global Tech, a Title 1 school with a special needs population that, historically, has topped 35 percent of the student body—most recently about its first class of students, many of whom were getting ready to head to college. I’ve also written about David Baiz, the award-winning teacher who was handpicked by Global Tech’s founding principal to become her successor.

Now Alexandra Estrella, the District 4 superintendent, has shown Baiz the door in what is expected, by most educators who know both Global Tech and the district, to mark the beginning of the end for the school. Last week, the staff sat stunned and teary-eyed, when Baiz announced at the weekly staff meeting that he would not be returning after spring break.

“One thing I've been really proud of—I feel like we've created something special in East Harlem,” Baiz told his staff. “Not every school is like this, in New York City, in East Harlem, in tough neighborhoods. You should be very proud.”

But, in interviews with half-a-dozen current and former staff members, several used the word “dead” or “dying” to describe what they see happening to the school.

“There was so much magic here; the way people worked together, how hard they worked,” said one staff member who did not want to be identified and caught herself speaking about the school in the past tense. “There is already tremendous upheaval in the lives of our kids who desperately need stability,” she added, noting that she expects more uncertainty in the coming months.

“The real tragedy of this is that David was the right guy at the right time,” notes Nick Siewert, a senior educational consultant with Teaching Matters who has worked with the school for several years. Baiz was committed to the school's social-justice mission, adds Siewert, but he is also “a systems-and-structures guy” who believes it is important for Global Tech and its students to do well by “measurable results.” Among other things, Baiz introduced a system of interim assessments designed to help teacher teams analyze specific student weaknesses and improve their practice.

One of the first schools in the Bloomberg-era iZone—in fact one of the few to survive the early years of that experiment—Global Tech also traces its lineage to the era of collaboration and teacher-leaders that flourished in District 4 under Tony Alvarado and Debbie Meier, beginning in the 1970s, and was, to a limited degree, revived under Bloomberg.

That legacy of grassroots leadership and collaboration, which was intended to foster creativity and innovation, is now widely seen as endangered—not just at Global Tech, but throughout the city. “This is a successful school; and yet, this is the kind of talent the DOE doesn’t want to retain?” said Chrystina Russell, the former principal referring wryly of Baiz’s ouster. “Is there no cause for pause?”

Indeed, Global Tech may turn out to be among the first Bloomberg-era small schools to be dismantled by the de Blasio-Farina administration. Those close to the school see Global Tech as a victim of an expanding bureaucracy where “who you know matters more than what you know.” Farina, the schools chancellor, has said she plans to merge dozens of small schools, arguing that mergers will create economies of scale and allow schools to offer more programs.

However, Global Tech had already punched above its weight thanks to a slew of partnerships. In addition to Citizen Schools afterschool offerings, under Baiz, the program’s apprentice teachers have offered an extra daily guided-reading program during the school day for every child. Partnerships with Cornell Tech and Google have helped Global Tech develop a course in software coding. For the second year, Global Tech is sending students to Bridge to Enter Advanced Math, a residential college-based summer program for seventh-graders. And following the standardized-testing season each spring, the school’s challenge-based learning modules allow students to work on everything from fashion design to a theatrical production.

Yet, Global Tech has known for nearly two years that its days might be numbered. Soon after Baiz become principal, in 2013, he learned that the superintendent was considering merging Global Tech, which has never had more than about 175 students, with P.S. 7, the K-8 school that shares its building. Russell and other friends of Global Tech within the education department urged Baiz to fight for the school; in what proved a short-lived victory, the principal of P.S. 7 moved to a job at DOE headquarters, and Estrella tapped Pryce-Harvey, Global Tech’s assistant principal and Baiz’s friend, to be the interim-acting principal.

Then, last summer, Baiz learned that Estrella had turned down his tenure application; under education department rules, there was a good chance that he would lose his principalship. A few months later she overruled his tenure recommendation for a respected Global Tech teacher—a Math for America master teacher for science who also holds a special-education certification.

Getting rid of Baiz appears to be a first step in consolidating the two schools in the East 120th Street building they share, under a principal hand-picked by Estrella. Pryce-Harvey will retire from P.S. 7 this year; her successor has already been chosen. While Estrella urged Baiz to leave early, assuring him that she had selected a successor for Global Tech, it turns out that she is moving one of her lieutenants, Ellen Johnson Torres, a teacher evaluation and development coach, into the job temporarily—another sign, education sources say, that the school will be merged with P.S. 7.

Estrella’s office referred interview requests to the education department, which did not respond to a phone message.

Despite the turmoil, several teachers at the school, which is also known for low teacher turnover—not a single teacher left last year—are clearly reluctant to leave. “I love these kids and I love East Harlem,” said Sage Hunter, the science teacher whose tenure application was turned down, adding that she wants to see her seventh grade students through to next year’s graduation. Kayla Hamilton, who started out as a Citizen Schools apprentice teacher seven years ago, said, “I’m going to be open-minded. As long as they keep our kids number one, I’m OK. But if I feel I can’t do what’s best for our students...”

Several other teachers, though, are updating their resumes. Thanks to Estrella’s decision to push Baiz out early, they have the entire upcoming so-called open-market period to look for new jobs within the department.

The one thing no one is worrying about is Baiz’s future. Last month, Baiz was accepted into Harvard University’s Doctor of Education Program, perhaps the most prestigious and selective program for educators in the country.

“He’s good enough for Harvard, but not for East Harlem,” one Global Tech teacher said of Baiz.

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Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY and is working on a new book on education reform. On Twitter @aagabor.

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New Yorkers Deserve Answers About the State’s Nuclear Bailout


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Climate change is a serious threat to New York. With so much of the state’s population, infrastructure and economic activity crammed into the coastal communities of the New York metropolitan area, sea level rise and increasingly intense hurricane seasons spell certain disaster in the long term.

In light of this, I’m sure that I share the concerns of many New Yorkers in expressing my disgust with President Trump’s executive action aimed at dismantling Obama-era climate regulations. That’s why it’s more important than ever to take action at the state level to combat this growing threat.

New York has already developed an ambitious Clean Energy Standard with a “50 by 30” goal of generating at least 50% of New York State's electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030, and reducing carbon emissions by 40% by that same year. These are important efforts that should be undertaken transparently and with the full cooperation of both government and the general public.

Sadly, that has not been the case. Last month, the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, which I chair, held a joint hearing with the Committees on Energy, Consumer Affairs and Protection, and Environmental Conservation to examine state plans around nuclear power plants and utility costs for New Yorkers.

Specifically, our hearing was intended to provide New York ratepayers with the opportunity to learn more about the state’s plan to offer Zero-Emissions Credits (ZECs) to upstate nuclear power plants and the program’s potential impact on utility costs. We invited the Public Service Commission (PSC) to testify about its controversial plan to provide ZECs. However, by failing to even appear before the committees, PSC officials continue to keep ratepayers in the dark on some of the program’s most pressing and questionable aspects.

The PSC even added insult to injury by sending a letter to me and my three fellow committee chairs giving conflicting reasons for its absence. In its letter, the PSC accuses us of not giving them sufficient notice for the hearing, while simultaneously blaming pending lawsuits brought by environmental groups against the Clean Energy Standard.

This is exactly the kind of half-baked reasoning we’ve seen recently from our federal government: blame as many groups and individuals as possible and see what sticks. The simple fact is that New Yorkers deserve transparency on such a vital issue, and yet the PSC is offering us just the opposite.

The Trump comparisons don’t end there. The plan would also mandate companies under the PSC’s jurisdiction to purchase these credits to subsidize four unprofitable upstate nuclear plants, all owned by the Exelon Corporation. The cost to ratepayers is estimated to total as much as $7.6 billion over the next 12 years. This is corporate welfare, pure and simple, with downstate ratepayers footing 60% of the bill and getting zero in economic benefit. The President would be proud.

My colleagues and I continue to demand that the PSC testify on these matters, and we’re prepared to fight until we get answers to our questions: How were these plants determined to need the subsidies? What are the potential taxpayer-funded profits for this private corporation? New York ratepayers deserve to know.

It's time we shine a light on our state’s electrical network, and ensure that the term “green energy” applies to the environmental impact for our state, not the economic impact to a company’s bottom line.

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Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz (D – Bronx) Chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions. On Twitter @JeffreyDinowitz.

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