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The Remarks Of Speaker Sheldon Silver

New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) 35th Annual Representative Assembly

Hilton NY, 1335 Avenue Of The Americas
Friday, April 11, 2008

{As Prepared for Delivery}

Thank you, Alan [Lubin], for that very generous introduction and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for that wonderful reception.

It is great to be here with my longtime friends, New York State's United Teachers, and it is an honor to share this stage with "The Magnificent Seven:" Dick Iannuzzi, Alan Lubin, Maria Neira, Kathleen Donahue, Robin Rapaport, Ivan Tiger, and of course, one this City's all-time great labor leaders and soon to be President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten.

While I appreciate Alan Lubin's words and your applause, I must share the credit with the outstanding Chair of our Education Committee, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, with the entire Assembly Majority, and with all of you.

Confident in the knowledge that we had the teachers, behind us;

Confident that we had the backing of NYSUT, the union that so effectively represents you;

We took the moral high ground and with the support of Governor Paterson, delivered an historic $1.75 billion increase in public education funding; $1.2 billion of which will be distributed through the foundation formula that was enacted in 2007.

By driving the bulk of the state's education dollars through the foundation formula, we ensure fairness and equity in the way we fund public schools throughout this state.

We ensure accountability through the Contract for Excellence, which means, among other things, funding for class-size reduction and teacher quality initiatives.

We keep the promise - the CFE promise - that we struggled for 15 years to make this state embrace.

More important, we honored the moral obligation to provide our children with, at the very least, a sound, basic education regardless of politics and regardless of the economic cycle.

As proud as I am to be the Speaker of the New York State Assembly and to represent my Majority colleagues here today, it is they who deserve the gold stars and your support.

Let me add that we are and always have been proud to be your partners, and that we are working hand-in-hand with you to promote the cause of social justice throughout this Empire State.

Let me also take a moment to acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of our Governor, David Paterson.

For someone who had been Governor for just 23 days to step up the way that he did and deliver a balanced and fully funded state budget that was nearly on time despite the recession, despite the political upheaval, was not merely remarkable, it is a testament to the caliber of leader that our Governor, David Paterson, really is and will be for the people of this state.

I know that I speak for the Assembly Majority when I say that I look forward to working with the Governor to make our public education system even better and to restore the people's faith in their government.

I will tell you that it was astounding, given the constraints on this budget, that we were able to raise the total investment in our public schools to more than $21 billion.

Given the constraints, it is astounding that we were able to increase by more than $600 million, the aid we provide to New York City's schools. (I should point out that $533 million of that increase is in Foundation Aid.)

It is equally astounding that we were able to move this state another step closer to the goal of truly universal pre-K by increasing our investment in that Assembly-initiated program, by $96 million. The increase will make it possible for up to 121,000 four-year-olds to reap the benefits of these important early education programs.

We did the difficult work. We did our part. Now it is up to the Mayor and the City Council to keep the promise.

As I have said countless times over the years, we cannot shortchange our schools and in the process, shortchange our teachers and continue to expect our students to meet and exceed our high academic standards.

The education of our children is a "state" investment.

All New Yorkers, the rich and the poor, the very old and the very young, the citizens of today and the citizens of tomorrow have a very real stake in the outcome of that investment.

Our children deserve more than platitudes.

One of the things they deserve, one of the things every parent wants for their children, are good teachers.

Test scores are always going to be one of the measures a good teacher uses to refine his or her approach with a given class, but test scores can never be the sole or ultimate measure of a teacher's effectiveness.

The agreement we reached in this budget, I believe, was a good compromise to an issue that had very quickly become volatile.

We ensure accountability, by directing the Regents to set minimum, statewide standards for teacher tenure and we guarantee that appropriate criteria will be used to evaluate our teachers.

As difficult as this budget process was, I believe this is a good budget, particularly for the children in your classrooms.

Admittedly, there is more we wanted to do.

Though we provided substantial funding for capital investments in our state university and city university system, we were not able to fully restore operating aid for our state and city colleges, universities and community colleges.

As you know, the Assembly Majority believed and continues to believe that it is fair and prudent to ask the wealthiest earners in this state, to pay a little more.

Although we had to drop that proposal in the interests of compromise, the fact still remains that there are moral obligations that this state must address, regardless of whether the economy is expanding or contracting.

Fortunately, we have a Governor in David Paterson, who shares our priorities.

We are looking to working with him to advance an agenda aimed at enhancing the quality of life for working families throughout this state.

I know that over the years, I, myself, have praised you for being the architects of the future, and to an extent, that is what a teacher is: a sculptor and a framer of a better tomorrow.

The reality is that all of us, all New Yorkers, are responsible for the education of our children and for grooming those who will lead our state far into the future.

If we truly want each and every child to come to school able and eager to learn, we must do more to end poverty, to strengthen families, to revitalize our economy, and to bring back that belief, that sense of hope, that in New York State any child's dream can be earned and can come true.

It is a responsibility that I take as seriously as you do, and it is a calling that I am proud to share with the teachers of this city and state.

Thank you.

New York State Assembly
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