Wednesday, April 14, 2010
By Senator Rubén Díaz
Families living in my community in the Bronx confront and overcome enormous challenges every day. As budget negotiations play out upstate and in the City, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our community could be hit hard again and this time, it’s our children who will unjustly bear the brunt of the pain.
Facing a massive budget gap, the City’s public schools are faced with the real possibility of having to lay off 8,500 teachers. Under current state law, those layoffs must be made in reverse seniority order: the last teachers hired are the first to lose their jobs. The South Bronx, where, for years, schools have experienced high rates of teacher turnover, has the largest number of new hires in the City. As a result, we’d lose the most—up to 21 percent of our teachers! In fact, three of the five most affected school districts in the entire City are in the Bronx. That is simply unacceptable.
Studies have shown that access to high quality teachers is the key to a great education for all children, but especially for those growing up in poverty. Researchers at the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington-based think tank, recently wrote: “These stakes are particularly high for disadvantaged students, who depend far more on educators to teach them what they need to know. Some researchers have found that if a low-income student has a highly effective teacher for three years in a row, the student can perform just as well as middle-class peers. This can potentially erase the achievement gap between these groups.”
As a result, I’ve introduced the KEEP Act—Keep Excellent and Effective Professionals in the Classroom – (S.7346/A.10482-A) to ensure that if lay offs do happen, they are spread equally across neighborhoods and schools. The bill would give the principal of each school, along with a committee of parents, teachers and administrators, the power to decide which teachers stay and which ones are let go based on a variety of factors, including experience, effectiveness, and staffing needs in each subject area.
The legislation is also sponsored by Assembly Member Jonathan Bing from the Upper East Side. Schools in his neighborhood have brought on many new teachers over the past few years to accommodate growing number of students. Those same schools now stand to lose 19 percent of their newest hires.
Over the past several years, achievement in the South Bronx has been on the rise. I give teachers a lot of credit for that success. Losing even one will hurt. But losing many high quality teachers simply because they’re new to the job threatens this progress and would be devastating to the students who need their passion, energy, and good ideas.
Ruben Diaz, Sr. is a member of the New York State Senate and represents District 32 in the Bronx.