March 17, 2014

                                                                                            ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK?

Now that both houses of the legislature have submitted their surprising responses to Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposal, it’s time for school board members to make their voices heard.  If you could order a state budget “a la carte” from these two “one house” versions, you might be able to cobble together one that would help our schools.  As it stands, each house will now negotiate each issue area in joint committees, before handing off the proposal to their house’s representative to the “three men in a room” who will make final decisions.  There’s a lot to discuss, making it important for school board members to weigh in with local legislators.

First, let’s compare the numbers.  The governor would increase school aid by a little over $600 million.  As a reference point, the Regents proposed a $1.3 billion increase and the Educational Conference Board says schools need $1.5 billion just to maintain current programs.  He adds in roughly $200 million for his teacher’s bonus and other incentive programs.  All school formula funding would go through Gap Elimination Adjustment reduction.  There is no increase for Foundation Aid.  He offers one mandate relief program; allowing school districts to apply for waivers from nonfederal special education mandates.  He proposes a $2 billion technology bond act to pay for Pre-K construction costs, as well as broadband access and computerized hardware for schools.  His plan also includes a property tax freeze that would require schools to ultimately reduce their tax levy by up to 3 percent.  The governor’s plan would also support school mergers and consolidations by allowing districts to merge their tax rates over 10 years. He would make public schools subject to the jurisdiction of the Division of Human Rights for the purpose of preventing patterns of harassment and he would require duplicative Dignity for All Students Act reporting mandates.

The Assembly proposes adding about $1.1 billion in aid over current aid levels and would allow New York City to tax wealthy residents to pay for universal Pre-K.  The aid amount is split between GEA reduction, Foundation Aid and full formula reimbursement for amounts claimed by schools for BOCES, special ed, transportation and Building Aid costs.  They propose a three year plan to increase school aid by $1 billion each year, fully eliminating the GEA, a phase in of Foundation Aid, as well as offering $100 million in competitive grants for universal Pre-K and full day kindergarten conversion.  Their plan rejects a state aid cap, supports full day kindergarten and sets aside any new casino revenue to pay for school aid. 

The Assembly would reject the governor’s property tax freeze plan but they would increase his Smart School Bond Act by $317 million to include special act, 853 and state supported schools for blind and deaf students (4201 schools.)  Their plan would allow school districts to select a lower payment rate to charter schools, as well as allowing districts saturated with charter schools to receive increased aid.  Unfortunately, the Assembly plan would not allow for mandate relief, including special education waivers.  Their plan would however, delay the Building Aid recalibration by one more year.  They would accept the governor’s idea to amortize the tax rates of districts that choose to merge, as well as his plan to subject schools to the Division of Human Rights, but they reject his plan to duplicate Dignity for All Students Act requirements. 

The Senate plan would be less financially beneficial, but includes a number of NYSSBA priority issues.  They would add only $200 million to the governor’s aid proposal, for a total increase of $812 million (including full funding for reimbursable categories.)  The Senate also rejects the state aid cap and would phase out the GEA by the 2016-17 school year.  In addition, they would add $145 million for universal Pre-K expansion, with authority to also spend the funds on kindergarten or GEA reduction.  Outside of the base amount, the Senate would spend $340 million on new Pre-K funding (perhaps in an effort to prevent new taxes in New York City.  They commit to spending $1.7 billion over five years for pre-k in New York City.)  They also set aside $200 million for funding after school programs. 

The Senate would alter the governor’s tax freeze proposal to pay school districts directly for increased costs, provided they stay at the tax cap, effectively freezing taxes for homeowners.  They accept the governor’s plan to force tax reductions, but would allow credit for cost saving measure already in place.

The Senate supports the Smart Schools Bond Act, but would also allow the bonds to pay for municipal water and sewer projects.  The Senate plan is most notable for its approach to charter schools.  It would increase the basic tuition rate for charters in New York City, force schools that currently allow a charter to use their buildings to do so without cost to the charter school, require New York City to provide facilities aid for charter schools that are expanding or who lose their current space in a public school.  It would authorize charters to offer Pre-K programs and require a charter school to sign off before being removed from a public school building.  The Senate would expand mayoral control in Yonkers and they accept the governor’s plan to allow special ed waivers.  The plan would allow regional high schools, would allow district EBALR funds to be used for GEA reduction, would permanently repeal the Building Aid recalibration and would accept the plan to amortize the tax rates of merging school districts.  They reject the idea of subjecting schools to the Division of Human Rights jurisdiction, but would allow up to $150 million in tuition tax credits for private and parochial schools.  The Senate plan would impose a curriculum mandate on schools to teach about child abuse, but would allow BOCES to continue contracting with out of state districts and allows BOCES to lease for up to 20 years.  It would include the long sought after tuition rate increase for special act, 853 and 4201 school districts.  Their plan would also set up a $100 million fund to pay employees out on family medical leave.   Not all of the Senate’s issues are spelled out in the legislative language, so ambiguity remains.

View a SIDE BY SIDE COMPARISON of the three plans.

                                                          STATEMENT FROM NYSSBA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TIMOTHY G. KREMER
The Assembly and Senate budget proposals each contain positive aspects for schools and represent a good starting point in negotiations.  School board members’ top goals right now are developing budgets for next year, keeping property tax increases to a minimum, and providing a high quality education. To help them realize these goals, the most important deliverable in the state budget is adequate state aid.  Toward that end, both houses promise to phase out the Gap Elimination Adjustment, but not as quickly as school boards would prefer. Nevertheless, both houses propose some form of flexibility in the use of state aid, which is high on the school board priority list.

The Assembly proposal commits to providing schools with $1 billion annually in state aid increases over four years, rejects the property tax freeze and provides relief to school districts grappling with oversaturation of charter schools. Those are all positive steps toward ensuring that schools have adequate financial resources to provide quality educational programs.

The Senate takes proactive steps to help schools operate more efficiently by providing mandate relief and allowing school districts to create regional high schools.  The Senate also repeals the recalculation of building aid, ensuring that schools receive their promised allotment of building aid.

One issue not addressed by either house is funds earmarked for Common Core implementation, including professional development. We also have serious concerns about proposed funding for charter schools and tuition tax credits – especially at a time when public school districts are cutting educational programs.  Finally, while universal Pre-K is a great investment, we must ensure that schools can first meet K-12 needs.

We hope state lawmakers mesh the best components of both proposals as they craft an on-time budget and cement their role as partners with schools in helping our students become college and career ready.

                                                                                                          NYSSBA ANALYSIS

Can we pick one from column A and two from column B, please?  If we could take the Assembly state aid total, combine it with the Senate’s plan to provide help in individual areas and throw in their opposition to the tax freeze as proposed, we might have something schools could work with.  We like the Assembly’s three year plan to boost school aid.  We like their lower charter school payments and their realistic approach to support for full day kindergarten conversion and Pre-K.  We like the fact that they reject the tax freeze and the idea of subjecting schools to the jurisdiction of the Division of Human Rights.  We also like the delay on Building Aid recalibration.  What we don’t like is their rejection of special education mandate relief and their failing to include things like BOCES leasing and programming and permanent tuition rate increases for special act, 853 and 4201 schools. 

We like the Senate’s long list of help with needed relief, like special ed waivers, Building Aid recalibration, regional high schools, BOCES issues and special act tuition rates.  Their school proposal, however, is far less than adequate, particularly in light of their willingness to propose significant funding for new programs in New York City.  For the life of us, we can’t understand the Senate’s support of tuition tax credits for private and parochial schools while they would underfund public schools, their significant diversion of funds to charter schools or their insistence on new curriculum mandates.   We are also concerned about diverting Smart Schools Bond Act funding for public water and sewer project and expanding mayoral control of the Yonkers City School District. 

In short, what we know about these “one house” budget proposals gives rise to great concern.  In a year when the need to eliminate the GEA could not be more clear, many legislators seem to have other things on their mind.  In their hope of being all things to all people, they have shortchanged our children’s future.  Much in their respective plans requires more clarity, as many issues weren’t spelled out in budget language.  We would also appreciate seeing actual runs from the legislative houses, so that districts could gauge where they stand as they prepare their budgets.   In the next two weeks, your local representatives will be involved in negotiating specific issue areas.  Look back through the lists above.  Call your legislators.  Tell them the aid isn’t enough and that if they drop their plans to start new programs, you can help them find the money.  It all boils down to whether you’d rather make a couple of phone calls to your legislators, or take all of the calls from your community complaining about the further deterioration of your educational program.
                                                                                          Call your Member of Assembly at 518.455.4100
                                                                                                     Call your Senator at 518.455.2800 Untitled Document

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