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Home » Clarion » 2023 » March 2023 » Critical moment for state funding

Critical moment for state funding

Organizing to forestall cutsBy ARI PAUL

The PSC sees an opportunity to achieve sizable increases in state contributions to CUNY during this budget cycle.

Baruch Rally James Davis

James Davis, left, calls for tuition-free CUNY at a Baruch College rally. (Credit: Erik McGregor)

On March 9, the union will send buses full of faculty, staff and students to Albany for a rally demanding that Governor Kathy Hochul and the leaders of the New York State Legislature reach a state budget agreement that rectifies decades of underfunding public higher education and funds the next PSC-CUNY collective bargaining agreement. (See pages 6–7 for more information about the elected political leaders central to budget negotiations.) The state budget is due April 1.

HIGHER ED FUNDING

The governor’s budget briefing indicates investments of “$1.5 billion in new capital projects for SUNY and CUNY” and “$270 million in new operating support for SUNY and CUNY campuses.” The total increase to CUNY operating funds that the governor proposed is $94 million for CUNY’s senior colleges and flat funding for its community colleges.

CUNY advocates have seen far worse executive budgets than this one during the Andrew Cuomo era, but it’s not nearly as generous as last year’s state budget, which included a tuition freeze. As Gothamist reported, student leaders lashed out at the governor’s plan for a “3% annual tuition increase for in-state SUNY and CUNY students.” Salimatou Doumbouya, CUNY University Student Senate chair and City Tech student, said, “The pandemic has made things hard for students already…. A tuition hike does not help at all.”

In a statement, the union said, “Last year, Governor Kathy Hochul made a five-year, $1.5 billion commitment to restoring CUNY and SUNY and set an ambitious goal to increase New York’s college graduation rate because she knows the power of public higher education to transform lives and strengthen the economy. The planned FY 2024 CUNY increases of $94 million in recurring operating funds and $643 million in capital investment are a welcome and needed investment, for which we thank the governor. Unfortunately, these increases fail to keep pace with the five-year plan or to meet CUNY’s budget request. A budget that depends on tuition hikes and leaves CUNY underfunded will further entrench the racial and economic inequalities that have plagued New York’s system of higher education funding.”

It continued, “Our students need more full-time faculty and advisors, well-equipped libraries and labs and safe, modern buildings and classrooms. The shortage of full-time mental health counselors at CUNY should be prioritized in the governor’s $1 billion mental health plan. In short, New York City needs a fully funded, tuition-free university, not another round of annual tuition hikes. With tax revenue running several billion dollars ahead of projections, according to the comptroller’s latest report, Albany is positioned to make these investments.”

In his testimony to the state legislature on the budget, PSC President James Davis said CUNY needs $200 million for new faculty hires and $112.2 million for needed professional staff hires to begin to offset years of disinvestment.

Likewise, the CUNY Rising Alliance said in its own statement that the shortcomings in the governor’s budget proposal underscore the need to pass the landmark legislation the New Deal for CUNY, which “aims to make CUNY accessible for all by eliminating in-state tuition for undergraduate students and providing high-quality education to all regardless of race or income.” The statement continued, “Additionally, this executive budget lacks action and direction on addressing the ratios of mental health counselors and academic advisors for students in line with national standards, which would ensure students receive adequate support in order to graduate.”

HIRING FREEZE

CUNY’s own preemptive demands for savings at the colleges make a transformative state budget for public higher education all the more urgent. In February, the administration called for a hiring freeze among other austerity measures.

“To progress further towards financial stability, the University is implementing a new savings target in fiscal year 2024 of $100 million,” Hector Batista, CUNY’s executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer, said in a memo to college presidents and deans. “Each college must develop a savings plan that outlines expense reductions and revenue enhancements and describes how these targets will be achieved.”

“CUNY colleges cannot sustain more cuts without severely undermining the student experience. Larger class size, fewer instructors and less student-facing staff support will not help CUNY rebound from the pandemic,” Davis told Spectrum News. “What’s needed is immediate additional investment of public funds. City Hall and Albany must come through.”

The state government, which prides itself as a progressive bulwark against the national rightward trend in American politics, can clearly do better, union members said.

“In 2023, Illinois, for example, funded its largest increase in public higher education in 20 years,” Susan Kang, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College and a PSC Executive Council member, wrote in Jacobin. “New Mexico instituted an almost-universal tuition-coverage scholarship program, one that applies to a variety of learners (part-time, traditional, nontraditional) and allows students to ‘stack’ the scholarship with other forms of financial assistance. Kentucky also made ‘historic investments’ in its higher education system in the most recent budget cycle.”

The union has strong allies in the Democratic supermajority in the state legislature. These alliances helped achieve increases to the state’s funding for CUNY last year. NYSUT, the PSC’s state affiliate, has also embraced the union’s message, launching this year a “New Deal for Higher Education” campaign. Union members have already traveled to Albany to lobby state lawmakers, but PSC leaders say that it will take continual pressure on Albany to ensure a fair budget agreement for CUNY in April.


Published: March 9, 2023

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