[ 2024 NYSUT Representative Assembly ]

Sen. Robert Jackson receives union’s highest honor

Robert Jackson headshot

ne of nine children, State Senator Robert Jackson knows how to survive. Times were tough for his family growing up, and they sometimes struggled to make ends meet. The experience taught him that “you have to be persistent in reaching your goals,” said Jackson.

It was a lesson he learned well. In 1993, that persistence led Jackson to launch the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a coalition of parents, community members and education advocates who sued the state over school funding cuts and overcrowding.

The case went all the way to New York’s highest court which found that New York City children were being denied a sound, basic education due to a lack of resources — violations of the state constitution and Title Six of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, since most District 6 students were children of color. The result: A historic $16 billion school funding win in 2003.

For his persistence and ongoing commitment to fighting for workers’ rights, Jackson is receiving the union’s highest honor, The Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service. The award recognizes individuals who’ve made special contributions to public education in the United States.

Jackson launched the CFE lawsuit while president of the Manhattan District 6 School Board. He’d grown fed up with annual funding reductions and staffing cuts. “In my daughter’s school there were 40 kids in a classroom,” said Jackson, explaining that overcrowding led to students having to travel to neighboring districts for instruction. He implored school board attorney Michael Rebell to “find a way” to fix the ongoing problems.

The “way” was the CFE lawsuit which led to Jackson’s historic 150-mile walk from Manhattan to Albany to highlight the case. “We coined it ‘walk a mile for your child,’” said Jackson, who was joined along the way by activists, politicians, parents and community supporters. He remembers sitting in the back of the courtroom “smelling as funky as we could be after walking for eight days.

“But we were walking for not only the children of New York City, but all the children of New York,” he said.

Today, the struggle for equity continues and advocates still fight for full education funding. As a state senator, Jackson continues to advocate for the working class, chairing the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee and sitting on the education, higher education and labor committees.

“I’m used to fighting and advocating for people,” said Jackson. “Continuously fighting to improve myself and the people I represent is very important to me.”