Most people don't associate public school teachers with gambling, but a recent United Federation of Teachers contribution of $250,000 toward a pro-casino political action committee in New York may signal a change in that trend. While some people, including some teachers, are up in arms about such a large chunk of union-backed funds going toward the possible opening of New York casinos, the union's motive is understandable: More gambling in New York would mean more revenue for New York's public schools.
A contribution of $125,000 by the state's United Federation of Teachers on October 21, 2013 was reported on a recent New York State Board of Elections Financial Disclosure Report. A matching contribution was reported the same day by one “UFT Solidarity Fund,” bringing the teachers' union contribution up to a grand total of a quarter million dollars.
Other contributors listed on this particular disclosure included American Racing & Entertainment LLC, Mashantucket Pequot Gaming, Saratoga Harness Racing Inc., and Yonkers Racing Corporation. While contributions from gaming and horse racing companies can be expected in such a campaign, many shocked onlookers felt the money from the teachers' union stuck out like a sore, suspicious thumb.
Referendum #1: Uniting Casinos and School Funding
Although casinos and public education may seem like incongruous topics, they're not entirely unrelated. A committee called NY Jobs Now is urging New Yorkers to vote “yes” on Referendum #1, which they claim would bring $3 billion of lost revenue back to the state. According to current law, 80 percent of that revenue would be applied to property tax reductions and public education funding throughout the state.
If passed, four new casinos would be built in New York right away. Seven years later, another three casinos would be built at locations that are yet to be determined. NY Jobs Now believes the creation of the new casinos would help keep gamblers, along with their money, within the borders of the state. At this time, many gamblers are in the habit of leaving New York to play games at casinos in nearby Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and even Canada.
The issue will be taken to ballot on Tuesday, November 5th.
Teachers Hackles Raised
Many members of the UFT reacted to their union's financial move with suspicion and hostility. By law these teachers are required to pay union dues, but they do not necessarily have a say in where the money is applied. A pervasive sense of mistrust exists within this union. According to one blogger, Perdido Street School, it makes “total sense” that the union would apply teachers' hard-earned salaries to the funding of the organized crime groups that “run the casinos.”
Yet another blogger expressed dismay that union dues would be used to “promote gambling . . . rather than fighting ed deform.” The current state of NY education is referred to as “deform” by this blogger in part because of pervasive teacher dissatisfaction with a rigid curriculum, stringent teacher rating systems which overlook many of the finer nuances of the art of teaching, and the general sense of persecution teachers in the United States are feeling at this time in history.
Perdido Street School: UFT May Actually “Run” a Casino
According to the Perdido Street School blog mentioned above, a source has suggested that the UFT will receive the right to “run” one of the four new casinos in exchange for its generous funding donation. This source, referred to in the blog as 52 Broadway, intimated that the casino to be run by the UFT will co-exist with a UFT charter school. The proposed partnership would be located at the current Aqueduct Racino in Queens.
Although Perdido Street gives no more information about its source, it is interesting to note that 52 Broadway is the address of UFT Headquarters in Manhattan.
Referendum Language Suit Rejected
On October 16th, a legal suit regarding the verbiage of Referendum #1 was thrown out by Judge Richard Platkin of the Albany Supreme Court. Brooklyn lawyer Eric Snyder filed the initial suit based on his belief that the referendum's language was written to unfairly sway voters toward a “yes” vote. Snyder, a self-proclaimed anti-gambler, took issue with what he considered to be “slanted” wording on the referendum. Snyder also claimed that the wording had been changed during a “secret meeting,” rather than at a public hearing, a move that would be in direct violation of the constitution.
The referendum's wording, which associates its passage with job growth and increased school funding, was deemed acceptable by Judge Platkin. Snyder plans to appeal Platkin's ruling, but right now the clock is quickly ticking toward the referendum's November 5th vote.
School Officials Have Mixed Feelings About Referendum
While some communities are excited at the prospect of having a new casino in the neighborhood, school administrators and board members have expressed ambivalence, even doubt, as to the referendum's effectiveness as a tool for funding. Kristin Ochtera, a school board president in Nassau County, commented that she would not bank her hopes on this referendum, adding that she would love to find “another revenue stream for public schools.”
Earlier this year, the NYS Rural Schools Association publicly expressed their desire to defeat the referendum's passage. Since that time, however, Executive Director Bruce Fraser has relented somewhat, stating that everyone should “vote their conscience” on this issue. Fraser then echoed his previously state hope that any gambling revenue applied to school funding would be used where it is most needed.
The UFT's involvement with a pro-casino PAC could be a sign of events to come in the United States. America's distressed economy, coupled with mounting academic competition from students in other countries and a growing, global interest in gambling, could lead to more issues like this in other states. Come November 5th, Americans will have a clearer understanding of how the New York Referendum #1 issue will be resolved.